A New Thomas Merton Book on Mysticism
Liturgical Press has just released a new Thomas Merton book, A Course in Christian Mysticism, edited by Jon M. Sweeney, with an introduction by me. Here’s a description from the book’s Amazon page:
“Thomas Merton’s lectures to the young monastics at the Abbey of Gethsemani provide a good look at Merton the scholar. A Course in Christian Mysticism gathers together, for the first time, the best of these talks into a spiritual, historical, and theological survey of Christian mysticism—from St. John’s gospel to St. John of the Cross. Sixteen centuries are covered over thirteen lectures. A general introduction sets the scene for when and how the talks were prepared and for the perennial themes one finds in them, making them relevant for spiritual seekers today. This compact volume allows anyone to learn from one of the twentieth century’s greatest Catholic spiritual teachers. The study materials at the back of the book, including additional primary source readings and thoughtful questions for reflection and discussion, make this an essential text for any student of Christian mysticism.”
If you’re interested in learning more about the history of Christian mysticism or want to go deeper in your own contemplative experience, this book is for you. Here’s a quote from my introduction:
“Although these lessons are heavy with intellectual content, with history and reasoning, what they are leading to is simple. Therein lies the dichotomy at the heart of the Christian mystical tradition: training leads only to being. As Merton writes in his essay The Contemplative Life in the Modern World, ‘Contemplative wisdom is then not simply an aesthetic extrapolation of certain intellectual or dogmatic principles, but a living contact with the Infinite Source of all being, a contact not only of minds and hearts, not only of “I and Thou,” but a transcendent union of consciousness in which man and God become, according to the expression of St. Paul, “one spirit.”‘”
Available directly from Liturgical Press or from Amazon or from your local independent bookstore..
Working on a Brian Doyle Profile for Notre Dame Magazine
My dear friend and fellow writer Brian Doyle died at 60 on May 27. Like many people who knew him or had simply read his marvelous books, I felt the loss deeply and wanted to remember him in some way, so I contacted Notre Dame Magazine, the alumni magazine for his alma mater, about writing a piece on him, focusing on his place in the Oregon literary community and at the University of Portland, where, over 25 years, he turned the alumni magazine, Portland, into one of the best magazines of any kind in America.
I’m collecting stories and thought about Brian for my piece now and will be writing it over the next couple of weeks, for publication in the magazine’s fall issue. If you knew Brian or have had a profound experience with his writing, please send your stories or thoughts to me at email@example.com
Here’s a link to one of Brian’s many astonishing essays, Joyas Voladoras, about the hummingbird and the heart. It was selected for Best American Essays 2005.
To see Brian talking about his writing and his life, view Oregon Public Broadcasting’s 2015 eight-minute ArtBeat feature on him here.
I’ll be READING in BOSTON 7 p.m. on Thursday, May 18 at Brookline Booksmith
If you live in or near Boston, I hope to see you at my reading from Pure Act: The Uncommon Life of Robert Lax at 7 p.m. this coming Thursday. The reading will be at the great independent bookstore Brookline Booksmith at 279 Harvard St. in Brookline.
A Note from A Canadian Reader
I recently received the note below from a Canadian reader. It expresses so well the kind of response I would hope for–to my book and to Lax–that I had to share it.
“Thank you so very much for writing Pure Act! Like Robert Lax’s poetry it’s a welcoming place to go to as the competition, chaos and anxiety of the 21st century become ever-more overwhelming. At 66, I don’t think I’ve ever read a biography or memoir that is both so enlightening and comforting—one of which I can say, ‘This is thoroughly necessary.'”
Talking About Biography and the Catholic Literary Imagination in NYC this Friday
From 9:15 to 10:30 a.m. on Friday, April 28, I’ll be talking about writing my Robert Lax biography on a panel titled “Biography and the Catholic Literary Imagination” in the McNally Amphitheatre at Fordham University’s Lincoln Center campus. The panel is part of the 2017 Catholic Imagination Conference with its theme “The Future of the Catholic Literary Imagination.” Appearing with me on the panel will be:
Dana Greene from Emory University, who has written a biography of Denise Levertov
Mark Bosco, SJ from Loyola in Chicago, who is making a film biography of Flannery O’Connor
Moderator Angela Alaimo O’Donnell from Fordham University, who wrote a short biography of Flannery O’Connor and is helping Bosco with his film
The conference runs all day Friday and Saturday, April 28 & 29. Featured speakers include Alice McDermott, Ron Hansen, Dana Gioia, James Martin and Mary Gordon. For complete details, go to the conference website, where you’ll find times and summaries for all of the talks and panels.
Here’s an Exercise from my Terroir Writing Festival Workshop on Personal Essay and Memoir
The featured image here is of poet Lynn Otto introducing me for my workshop “Getting Down to the Truly Personal in Personal Essay and Memoir” at the 8th annual Terroir Creative Writing Festival in McMinnville, Oregon, last Saturday. McMinnville is at the heart of Oregon’s wine country and home to the Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum, which is where Howard Hughes’ Spruce Goose resides now.
The conference had 120 attendees and close to half of them squeezed into the small room where my workshop was held, with some spilling out the door. The tight quarters made for good energy and the writing was furious during the three exercises I was able to offer in the hour I had. Judging by the comments afterward, the exercises took people to the deeper places I hoped they’d go, some emerging with tears in their eyes and others saying they found their way with projects that had been stalled.
Below is one of the exercises we did, based on this paragraph from Jorge Luis Borges’ essay “Blindness”:
“A writer, or any man, must believe that whatever happens to him is an instrument; everything has been given for an end. This is even stronger in the case of an artist. Everything that happens, including humiliations, embarrassments, misfortunes, all has been given like clay, like material for one’s art. One must accept it. For this reason, I speak in a poem of the ancient food of heroes: humiliation, unhappiness, discord. Those things are given to us to transform, so that we may make from the miserable circumstances of our lives things that are eternal, or aspire to be so.”
WRITING: Think of an “instrument” that is an inescapable element of your experience of life—asthma, blindness, migraines, single parent, poverty—something that has marked you in ways that might seem damaging or at least disadvantageous. Write a long paragraph about it and your connection to it.
A Workshop on Personal Writing at the 2017 Terroir Creative Writing Festival on Saturday, April 22
On Saturday, April 22, I’ll be leading a workshop called “Getting Down to the Truly Personal in Personal Essay and Memoir” at the 2017 Terroir Creative Writing Festival in McMinnville, Oregon. If you live in Oregon or SW Washington, I highly recommend this boutique writing festival. For just $50 ($60 after April 14), you get a full day of workshops and readings with many of Oregon’s finest writers. For more information or to register, click here: Terroir Creative Writing Festival.
Talks, Readings, Workshops and Seminars
I’ve added quite a few events to my appearance schedule in recent weeks. Check the Talks page for a full list. If you’d like to discuss a possible talk or reading in your area, please contact me using the Contact form on the About page.
PURE ACT Paperback Out on April 3
First look at the paperback version of PURE ACT: THE UNCOMMON LIFE OF ROBERT LAX. The publication date is April 3 but it’s available for pre-order now: https://www.amazon.com/
I’ll Be a Visiting Professor at St. Bonaventure University in March
I’m pleased to announce that I’ve been selected to be the Spring 2017 Lenna Endowed Visiting Professor at St. Bonaventure University in Olean, New York. I’ll be on campus for the last two weeks of March, giving talks, visiting classrooms, meeting with students, and chatting with the Franciscan friars.
I’m especially honored to receive the Lenna Professorship because the first recipient of it, when it was established in 1990, was Robert Lax. St. Bonaventure is in his home town and, as those who’ve read my biography of him know, he and his mother went there often. The friars were an important early spiritual influence on him.
The dates for the public talks haven’t been set yet but they should be soon. I’ll post them in the Talks section of my website. If you’re in the area, I hope you’ll come!