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Book Review: the Joy of Being, Daily Readings With John Main

by Peter Menkin  
1/20/2009 / Book Reviews

A companionable and good Book

A favorite of a Deacon I know, the book "The Joy of Being: Daily Readings with John Main," was not given to me by her, but loaned. "The John Main one I would like back," she wrote me in a note. Not only do I have a short book of readings, by the well-known Monk and spiritual writer John Main, but a loan with underlining by my friend. This Deacon I know has a lot of love, love for Christ, love for others, and love for her ministry. So does this 60 page, pocket sized book published by Darton, Longman and Todd, 1982. It is part of their Modern Spirituality series.

As evidence of her love, she notes after this quote, "Our effectiveness in trying to turn back the tide of fear and hatred in the world depends upon our own insertion into the mystery of Christ." She adds, "...infused with that mystery, to bring the love that is its fruit back into the world." It is a diaconal statement she makes, and as a reader I had my time of reflection and enlargement for these readings. They do that for one, create reflection and enlargement. John Main believes we can help the world through the spirit.

In a section but a page long, like all the readings are a page long (short), she notes this quote from the pages of the book, giving a hint to her concerns: "The Church witnesses in every generation not to a system of dry doctrines but to the Presence of the living Christ in its midst and its principal message is that this living Presence is a wholly contemporary reality." As a reader, one will find a vision out of many visions that are personal since the book speaks to a broad area. I think the readings are really about Christ, and coming to live in the world, in the Church, in ones life in Christ. Living in the Church is also part of the writings in the book. I think you will agree, should you buy the book.

I am going to focus a little on the relationship of individual and group to Church as the book offers it for another moment, so this quote from the introduction by Laurence Freemen explaining the book. Keep in mind that a serious focus of the book is ones contemplative and meditative practice, and prayer, with relationship to the joy of believing in faith.

"Of all the world's religious families, Christianity has most directly and courageously encountered modernity. It is shaking her institutions to their foundations but also proving the vitality and contemporaneity of her tradition. No one can be a Christian today without sensing the power of resurrection at work in the mortal structures of the Church." Reprinted three times, last in 1998 by my edition, the series of readings remains relevant today and speaks to Christians in our decade. By the way, isn't that a surprising and good word, "contemporaneity," indicative of the uplifting and surprising way John Main has managed to write these inspiring and interesting creative readings. There is a flavor to his writing, a distinctiveness that moves the reader long. My practice with the book has been to read more than one reading, or page a day, usually in the morning. In its way, the book is a brightener, and in so doing joyful.

Laurence Freeman's introduction is a worthy admittance to the book, and Clare Hallward edited the work by the Benedictine Prior. John Main wrote a number of books, including, "Word into Silence," more specifically addressing contemplative prayer. Through this book he emphasizes and teaches about meditation and speaks to a contemplative outlook in practice.

Practically a spokesman for contemplative practice, the spiritual master John Main addresses a page to, "Contemplative vision necessary for contemporary action," writing, "Meditation is neither a backward glance nor a timorous projection forward but rather combines the old and the new in the glory of the eternal present--the `perpetual now.'"

Readings about the whole person, addressing an attitude to God, and belief as a Christian, are hallmarks of the readings. I note where he reminds his reader that unlike contemporary Western culture's regard for cerebral activity, a posture of allowing "God's mysterious and silent presence within us to become the reality which gives meaning..." This is the fruitful posture of humankind and the believing community. Perhaps he means to point his reader in that direction so as to be joyful and new in Christ, and to bring another dimension to our perceptions and experience.

Reflected upon, the book is rich with its suggestions and directions. Not a burdensome book, certainly an addition to its class of reading, I think I was lucky to have it loaned to me by my friend the Deacon. If you are someone who likes a book of short readings, this is a good one and a companionable one.

I would be remiss if I left you without a sense of John Main's Benedictine flavor. From the reading, "The way of transcendence," he writes, "St. Benedict realized that he had located the essence of the spiritual life in his quest for purity of heart, the capacity to turn wholly and utterly away from self to the other, to a life of intimate union with God." The readings suggest one move from self to other, to more intimacy with God, and direct one, by suggesting, "By stillness in the spirit we move in the ocean of God." This is a book of daily readings, containing many words to reflect on by a wise and good spiritual master proves to be a rewarding read.

--Peter Menkin, Mill Valley, CA USA

Peter Menkin, an aspiring poet, lives in Mill Valley, CA USA where he writes poetry. He is an Oblate of Immaculate Heart Hermitage, Big Sur, CA and that means he is a Camaldoli Benedictine. He is 64 years of age as of 2010.

Copyright Peter Menkin

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