Latest Book Reviews
Spirituality: An Art of Living, A Monk’s Alphabet of Spiritual Practices | Benoît Standaert
Standaert, Benoît. Translated by Rudolf Van Puymbroeck
Liturgical Press, 2018
Review by Frederick W. Schmidt
Rueben P. Job Chair in Spiritual Formation
Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary
This is the age of information. It is in no danger of being the age of wisdom, or so it seems.
But if Benoît Standaert is correct, perhaps there is some room to hope that things will improve. Certainly Standaert has made his own effort to turn the tide. Following Dutch philosopher, Ilse Bushor, Standaert argues that “‘Philosophy has become the art of living. Theology is becoming spirituality (xiii).’”
For his own contribution to that effort, Standaert -- himself a monk in the Order of Saint Benedict -- reaches back into the work of the Desert monastics. It is in this tradition, he argues, that spirituality as the art of living, flourishes and deepens through practice. Pitted against the “‘impossible’” task of living, such practices provide us with something that we can do and do well, and in doing something well we find that “life is different, although nothing has changed (xiv).”
Modeled on the work of spiritual masters like John Climacus (xv), Standaert offers his own approach to our exploration of the paradoxical relationship between grace and discipline (xvi-xvii) by mapping his introduction to spiritual practice using each letter of the alphabet. Each chapter explores more than one spiritual practice and each entry includes cross references to other disciplines.
So, for example, “A” includes entries entitled “Abba,” “Adoration,” “Anawim: The Poor and the Humble,” and “Aspiration (3-10).” The entry devoted to “Abba” discusses the significance of the name, Abba, for Christian prayer (3-4) and cites related practices under the headings, “Aspirations, Ejaculatory Prayers, God, Jesus and the Jesus Prayer, Name, Spirit (4).”
Standaert’s work draws inspiration from his own tradition and from Christian categories, but it is addressed to “believers and unbelievers, the churched and the unchurched” in the conviction that there is “a monk in everybody (xv).”
Over the last forty years, alongside the growing interest in spirituality, there has been increasing interest in monastic life as well. Seeking to cull insights from monastic life for non-monastics, authors have explored the prayer practice of monasteries, the spiritual benefits accrued from crafting a rule of life, and the value of silence. Others have addressed curiosity about the inner workings and unseen dimensions of life in the monastery itself, and still others have offered memoirs, seeking to offer a narrated window into what one writer calls “the useless life.”
Standaert’s work occupies a unique place in that bibliography, seeking to weave a fabric of monastic practice, that invites the reader to move back and forth between the practices and assumptions that originated in the Scetis Desert and that far flung monasteries over the centuries have been elaborated over the centuries. In a deceptively simple format he seeks to cultivate wisdom in a complex world that overwhelms and engenders despair. The warmth of his work, the accessibility of his language, and the wise simplicity of his approach offers the opportunity to find wisdom in the age of information
About Benoît Standaert
Benoît Standaert is a Benedictine monk of Saint Andrew's Abbey in Bruges, Belgium. He teaches Scripture, spirituality, and interreligious dialogue. After completing a doctorate at the University of Nijmegen on the composition and literary genre of the Gospel of Mark, he published numerous works on Scripture and spirituality in Dutch, several of which have been translated into French, English, and Italian. He is also the author of Sharing Sacred Space: Interreligious Dialogue as Spiritual Encounter (Liturgical Press, 2009).
ISBN: 978-0-8146-4517-8, 4517
eISBN: 978-0-8146-4541-3, E4541
Details: 428 pgs
Publication Date: 12/13/2017
eFormats Available: PDF, EPUB, MOBI