If I had to choose a theme for this month, it would be cloistered
The Seven Storey Mountain by Thomas Merton
Thomas Merton's The Seven Storey Mountain is the account of his
conversion to Catholicism and call to his vocation in a Trappist
Monastery. I had seen this work recommended by a number of my favorite
authors, so I was keeping it on my mental "to read" list (which should
probably be written, due to the failings of memory). Having read it, I
can easily see the source for the affection which so many have for
Merton's style is excellent. He stretches the first twenty-eight years
of his life past 400 pages, but it is kept engaging. I think my
favorite feature of Merton's was to write mostly directly, but then to
occasionally throw in the most whimsical observations. These were
usually brief and sparse, and were used to great effect in my opinion.
The story is compelling as well. I found myself rooting for
Merton. But what I think I liked best in this work was the look into
monasticism. I had never known much about the cloistered life (and
still don't, honestly), but The Seven Storey mountain paints a vivid
picture of the appeal of monastic life. At times I found myself
thinking - "What good are these monks? All they do is pray!" And then
immediately felt silly. This precisely exposes the rift in worldview
between monasticism and modernity. If you are interested in more, then
it is certainly recommended.
That Holy Anarchist by Mark VanSteenwyk
After completing Merton's autobiography, with all of its Catholic
orthodoxy, I felt compelled to mix things up and read from the radical
side of the Christian spectrum. This began with a re-read of Tolstoy's
The Kingdom of God is Within You (which is still on-going at the
time of writing). However, whilst in the general neighborhood, I
happened across Mark VanSteenwyk's That Holy Anarchist.
I was already familiar with Mark's work on the Jesus
Radicals site and the
podcast. So when I came across this slim primer on Christian
Anarchism, I was immediately interested.
First of all, in line with true anarchist principles, That Holy
Anarchist is not protected by copyright and available
on-line for free. So if
you are interested by this review, there is nothing stopping you from
reading the book (and buying it to share if you like).
I believe this is the best, most succinct primer on Christian anarchism
which I have encountered thus far. It is not over-long (I read it in a
single sitting), and not hard to understand. In addition to this, Mark
avoids to the temptation to "theorize" Christian anarchism - he lays
out the arguments but does not try to make an airtight case. In this
way the book comes across more as food for thought than a forceful
argument, which may be useful in attracting new readers to the
I myself remain a Yoderian, so Mark didn't win me over. This work is
recommended if you'd like to trouble your notions of Christianity
and state power.