Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Book Review

A time to keep silence - by Patrick Leigh Fermor 

It is a book about the observations of travel writer Patrick Leigh Fermor of monastic life during his brief sojourn in 4 different monasteries. Three of the monasteries are in France and the last one is in Turkey. The first 2 are Benedictine - St.Wandrille & Solesmus, the third is a Trappist monastery - La Grande Trappe and the last one is in Cappadocia.

The introduction by Karen Armstrong sets the stage for being open minded about religious traditions and the common pursuit of spirituality across religions.

The author’s description of the landscape, architecture, the history of the monastery, the monks and their philosophy is erudite. There is a lot of theology covered in such a short book.

It was difficult to read some of the conversations the author had with the monks as they were in French and I don’t know the language. Also, it took a lot of effort to follow some of the theosophical history narrated in the book. A lot of historical names were unfamiliar to me. I could only recognize a few names of canonical Saints and political figures. It helped to look up some of them in Wikipedia.

Of all the monasteries, St.Wandrille was the most appealing to me. I could easily picture myself there. Their peaceful quietude, benevolence and self-sufficiency is every one's quest - within or without the monastic walls. I am as baffled by the Trappist monastery as the author in trying to understand the reasoning behind the following of this branch of the Rule of St.Benedict. Though I can attempt to understand their vow of silence, their physical austerity is too exacting and to me incomprehensible. The Cappadocian monasteries, though not inhabited, are a must see place in my mind, if not for the amazing architecture by the earliest monks in Christendom, then at least for the surreal landscape and the cave paintings that transport one to a different epoch.

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Thanks for reading. I would love to hear what you have to say.