Practicing Silence: New and Selected Verses  -     By: Bonnie Thurston, David Steindl-Rast
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Practicing Silence: New and Selected Verses

Paraclete Press / 2014 / Paperback

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Product Information

Format: Paperback
Number of Pages: 112
Vendor: Paraclete Press
Publication Date: 2014
Dimensions: 8.50 X 5.50 (inches)
ISBN: 1612615619
ISBN-13: 9781612615615

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Publisher's Description

Although the literary form is poetry, this is a book about the spiritual life. Think of it as an armchair visit to a monastery. Focused around monastic themes, it speaks to the spiritual seeker and curious bystander alike by presenting a range of spiritual experiences in accessible language. The poems are grouped according to a monastic logic. A section on visits to monasteries is followed by poems on questions of vocation or spiritual calling that such visits often raise. Then the reader will follow the horarium, or monastic day, and encounter some fruit of lectio divina, the practice of prayerful reading of scripture. The poems on interior prayer will speak to contemplatives in any religious tradition. The collection closes by exploring the experience of anchorites and solitaries.

Author Bio

Formerly a professor of New Testament, Bonnie Thurston is a poet and spiritual director who lives quietly in her home state of West Virginia. She also writes theological works and travels to lecture and give retreats.
 

Editorial Reviews

I love paperbacks with the French folded covers, and find this handsome and attractive. Bonnie Thurston is known as an astute Bible scholar (having written several commentaries, and books on spirituality, including stuff on the early church fathers and mothers.) So it isn't surprising, really, that her poetry has been used by  Brother David Steindl-Rast who has a foreword) and the above-mentioned Brother Paul Quenon. This book really is about the spiritual life, perhaps an armchair visit to a monastery.  Although it can be used devotionally, it is good art, carrying a rave review from (for instance) the Poet Laureate of Virginia (who calls it "pure and intense") and a former Poet Laureate of Maryland and Emeritus professor who says "These poems are among the very best I have encountered in a lifetime of reading and teaching poetry."  Wow.  Maybe that deserves an award, too, for Best. Blurb. Ever.  Cheers!             
—Hearts and Minds

Publishers of contemporary poetry are not eager to print collections with explicitly spiritual or religious themes. These ’verses’ by Bonnie Thurston which ’bear witness to Benedictine life’ are therefore welcome. The poems are interestingly grouped, each section being prefaced by a quotation from the Rule of St Benedict. The writer states, with honesty, that ’Although its "literary form" is poetry, this is a book about the spiritual life.’ Reminiscent perhaps of Joyce Rupp, and lacking the depth and poetic craft of a poet such as Mary Oliver, these verses are one woman’s reflections on her exploration of monastic spirituality. Through her poems the writer offers a way of listening to the Spirit which some will appreciate. I especially liked the final piece in the book - ’Little Rule for a Minor Hermitage’ - which supports and enables a monastic way of living in ’ordinary’ life, and I am grateful to Bonnie Thurston for that. —Maggie Jackson, Spiritual Director, Retreat Guide at Community of the Resurrection, and Poet

The Rev. Dr. Bonnie Bowman Thurston, is native of West Virginia, who is now a widow living there in solitude. She wrote her doctoral dissertation on Thomas Merton and has taught Scripture at the university level for 30 years. Although not herself a monastic, she is a connoisseur of contemplative life and has visited and lived in a number of monasteries. This book of poems is by way of an introduction for ’spiritual seekers and curious bystanders’ to ’the ancient Christian spiritual traditions of monasticism’ which have haunted her since she began to study them over forty years ago. Like many others, she believes that poetry is the true language of theology and she hopes that by using this idiom she can help people in this 21st Century to taste the subtle flavour of silence which becomes more and more inimical to the inhabitants of a world consistently bedecked with sound. It is also crucially important that Christians learn to understand the language of symbols, as this is the way in which human beings can communicate with and about God. She doesn’t claim to be an evangelist but she hope to make the language of poetry less intimidating to those who feel alienated.
These are elegant and refined coverlets to a life of prayer, which waft towards us like the scent of handcrafted tweed or homemade brown bread, and make us want to taste and feel. —Mark Patrick Hederman, osb

Nature poets have a strong sense of place and a tendency toward contemplation. Bonnie Thurston excels in both characteristics. This necessity of yielding and grace of giving way is the underpinning of Practicing Silence, a collection of 67 poems divided into six chapters on Monasteries, Vocation, Horarium, Lectio divina, Interior Prayer, Anchorites, Hermits, and Solitaries.  The poems follow an organic evolution of curiosity about religious life, the mystery of "call," initial experience of monasticism, steeping oneself in the Word, moving deeper into silence, and celebrating commitment.  In several poems, the author sees herself as a stray, a wounded suppliant on the margin (6, 10).  She claims not to belong in the deepest sense, yet loiters "at heaven’s back door," hungry and waiting with "begging bowl" (6, 16).  Better than any formal guide to prayer, these poems, with their Benedictine flavor and quotation from Benedict’s Rule introducing each section, model the turns of the heart necessary for authentic intimacy with the Divine.  With a deceptive homespun quality to her language, Thurston uses le bon mot to elicit in the reader new levels of spiritual insight. Her poems function for each of us as a call "to illumination…as a magnifying glass / focuses rays of light" (20), makes attractive the "orchestrated emptiness" of monastic practice (32), and invites us to be more comfortable with the mystery of prayer. Humbly, Thurston shares her experience of "the self’s radical/ turning toward God" in prayer: "Glimpsed, not taught / it illuminates a dark world/ with a searing love /that beckons, burns, ignites a fiery impulse" (82). Her final comment in " Hermit Lessons: A Sequence" for her Trappist brothers at Gethermani offers sage advice: "The ultimate lesson? / Live simply. / Simply live. / Rise from the dead." Having left a successful career in academia for the less complex but more challenging life of widow and solitary, Thurston writes of what she has learned—not formal biography, but personal experience nonetheless. 
Stylistically, this collection illustrates Thurston’s preference for short poetic lines and her agility in using alliteration, simile, metaphor, allusion, paradox, contrast, and imagery.  Thus readers can savor phrases such as "sitting / on their wonky porch," "vernal vibrations," "tawdry trinkets of the little self," "singing up the corn," monks "like a flock of elderly birds," and Gregorian chant as so many "squares strung on needles." Her command of crisp, precise language bespeaks her professional training in English literature, and her commitment to a simple lifestyle of being and seeing allows her to not merely describe but to probe each experience for its spiritual fecundity. Readers will find prayerful richness in each of these poetry collections, so be not quick to dismiss the West Virginia poems for the monastic ones. Solitude, whether in the Appalachian hills or the cloister, "questions the cultural package… cultivates stillness of heart,…is sentinel of authenticity/ of the bliss of living alone together/ [and]...sows seeds of a public possibility/ that scares the dead to death" (87). — Monica Weis SSJ, Cistercian Studies Quarterly

Bonnie Thurston encountered Christian Monasticism nearly forty years ago, and describes herself as having lived 'more or less as a Solitary' for over twenty years. It is out of this Tradition and experience that these poems are clearly formed; they reflect her own challenge to live Monastic Spirituality in the world.

In her own words, this is a book about the spiritual life in poetic form. Organised under six main sections of Monasticism, Vocation, Horarium, Lectio Divina, Interior Prayer, and Anchorites, Hermits, Solitaries, the poems themselves are less obviously connected with the Benedictine Tradition than either the individual section headings, or the quotations from the Rule of St Benedict used to preface each section suggest. These aren't poems written by an observer of the tradition, they are written from the inside:  inside her lived experience of the Benedictine tradition, and inside of her. This gives the poems a unique feel of both rootedness and movement. There is a solidity and strength, an honesty and vulnerability that makes it difficult to imagine how they could not appeal in some way to every reader.

Several of these poems were published in journals before being collected here. There is a helpful Foreword by Br. David Steindl-Rast OSB introducing readers to the Benedictine Tradition, the Rule and to Vocation, and in the Authors Note Bonnie explains why she has organised her poems in this form. In bringing them together she has achieved what she hoped for, that is, to have communicated 'something of the mystery and spiritual depth of Monasticism and the sweetness and sustenance of Christianity' (see her Thanksgiving at the end). The straightforwardness of the poems does not in any way detract from their depth. These are grown up poems: brave, beautiful, raw. Through them one glimpses 'God's stark,/ searing beauty' (Offices) and through them, too, the reader is 'restored [and] return[s]/ to the weary world rejoicing'. (Strays). --- Sarach Webster, The Fairacres Chronicle

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