May 6, 2011

Faithful Lines / Shirley Vogler Meister

The Monastery of the Heart: a meaningful life

Shirley Vogler MeisterMost of my readers know of Benedictine Sister Joan Chittister from previous books that she has written, especially The Gift of Years.

For those who aren’t familiar with her, she is a well-known author and lecturer, the executive director of Benetvision research center for contemporary spirituality, and the past president of the Conference of American Benedictine Prioresses and Leadership Conference of Women Religious.

A resident of Erie, Pa., she also serves as the co-chair of the Global Peace Initiative of Women.

Her newest book, The Monastery of the Heart: An Invitation to a Meaningful Life, would have been perfect reading material for Lent—except for the fact that its publication date is on May 30.

I was happy to be able to read it early from an uncorrected proof copy sent by the publisher, Blue Bridge, an imprint of United Tribes Media Inc. (

An introductory message in the book explains that, “Every culture has sought the spiritual dimensions of life in different ways, in language and symbols and lifestyles. Across the ages, countless men and women in East and West chose the path of the monastic life, either in solitude or in community. One of them was Benedict of Nursia, the sixth-century founder of communal monasticism in the Western world.

“For Benedict, the spiritual life lay in simply living this life, our daily life, well. He turned the ordinary into an experience of the extraordinary, a union with the sacred in the here and now. His enduring legacy—Benedictine spirituality based on the Rule of Benedict—exists to this day, around the world.”

Through the years, I have always been interested in the concept of monastic life, especially when experiencing times of turmoil or extreme challenges.

I learned much during those difficult times and, in retrospect, realize that the challenges were really blessings.

When I began reading her book, I was surprised that the lines were done in a light and simple semi-poetry form that is actually instructional in a unique way.

I could look at any page—even out of chapter sequence—and learn and meditate with most lines. I love books that allow quiet reflection in this way.

I also enjoyed this format because I could flip to any page and find simple information that helped me review where I am in life. Yet, it is ageless and I could have easily learned much from this book many years ago.

Her book progresses in beautiful sequence, too. After the introduction, the chapters focus on “Our Search,” “Our Interior Life,” “Our Community,” “Our Service,” “Our Promise” and “Our Spiritual Growth.”

This book was a blessing to read.

(Shirley Vogler Meister, a member of Christ the King Parish in Indianapolis, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.)

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