The Abbey Up the Hill
I am quite fascinated by the Benedictine tradition. There's something about its quiet humility, its commitment to quietness, scholasticism, learning and permanence - all qualities I find difficult to cultivate, yet so admire in others.
I like to live a Benedictine life vicariously through books by and about monks. One of my all time favourites is, naturally, Kathleen Norris, but I have also become enamoured of a wonderful author called Carol Bonomo, and have just finished her book The Abbey Up the Hill.
It is an account of a year lived as Benedictine Oblate - that is a lay person who commits herself to the Benedictine Rule and attempts to infuse their everyday lives with the spirit of the Benedictine order. A fascinating book, one can't help but feel jealous of Bonomo's ability to make such a serious spiritual commitment. Luckily, she presents herself as no saint - she is grouchy and impatient and inclined to be judgemental of her fellow religionists (reminds me of someone...). I love her honesty, and her willingness to depict herself as an unlikable curmudgeon. Mrs. Bonomo is decidedly real, and her religious life full of the same stretches of boredom, frustration and doubt that afflict so many of us. I was charmed when she decides at last to make cheerfulness her primary spiritual practice - for this is certainly the hardest state of being to cultivate.
Finally, after journeying to her beloved Benedictine Abbey over the course of a year, the author realises the importance of cultivating a true inner spirituality that doesn't rely on the perfection of others or of place in order to inspire a true religiosity. The message is ultimately about creating an 'inner monastery' that can guide our commonplace actions and thoughts, and steer us toward a true humility and contemplative state of mind.
I love this book so much - Bonomo is a brilliant and unpretentious writer, and I think she has gained some seriously profound insight into the spiritual journey. Tempered, always, with humour and self-deprecation. A terrific, and inspiring, read.