Volume 22
Number 5
The Forum issue of Association of Professional Chaplains

Resource Reviews for August 2020:

The Way of the Hermit: Interfaith Encounters in Silence and Prayer
Mario I. Aguilar (Philadelphia: Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2017, 208 pages, softcover, Kindle)

Aguilar’s book is an introduction and invitation to the eremitic life lived in interfaith dialog. He explains that the life of the hermit can be lived in a monastic setting or as a spiritual discipline on one’s own. He writes as an academic; he is Chair of Religion and Politics at the School of Divinity (St. Mary’s College) of the University of St Andrews, Scotland.  Yet he is also writing as a practitioner; he is an oblate of the Camaldolese Benedictines. Aguilar’s work is not focused solely on life in a hermitage, but emphasizes the possibilities of interfaith dialog afforded by the shared language of silence. He explains:

The way of a hermit is the way of a Christian who has sought his journey with God through the centrality of space contained in a single monastic cell in which his or her life connects with the passing of time…. Time becomes the reality in which God and the hermit meet and in which the hermit and others meet…. However, hermits, because of their way of life seeking holiness and enlightenment have always attracted other pilgrims who have come closer to a hermitage to seek prayer, encouragement, and spiritual affirmation. (15)

The author’s research and his spiritual journey have led him into interfaith encounters between Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, and Sikhs. He proposes the silence shared by hermits of these differing traditions can become the common language of spiritual encounter, a bridge to the understanding of a shared humanity. He does not minimize the differences between the traditions and does not suggest an artificial synthesis, but instead posits a respectful dialogue based on a common human experience. He writes, “The hermitage proclaims the great possibilities of the Kingdom, of a united humanity, of a Jerusalem in which all children of God of different faiths will arrive and live in peace” (27).

Aguilar’s book includes depictions of interfaith encounters on the part of others such as Charles de Foucauld, Sadhu Sundar Singh, Thomas Merton, as well as firsthand experience. It also considers practical ways of ordering time and space in a hermitage and provides examples of lectio divina involving selections from the Upanishads and Bodhisattvas. The author also offers considerations for liturgical celebrations in an Indian cultural context. Appendices provide suggestions for morning and evening prayer and mid-day worship for a Christian-Hindu setting. The author also writes of interfaith accords: The Declaration of a Shared Humanity, signed in Scotland in 2016, and The India Declaration, signed in India in 2017. Born of interfaith gatherings in prayer, meditation, and silence, these documents emphasize, “a common humanity in a common journey of a shared symbolic significance with material and textual differences but made in common” (175-176).

This book is intended for those interested in spirituality, specifically in the eremitical lifestyle, and for those who value interfaith dialogue based on the language of silence, meditation, poetry, and prayer.

Reviewed by Vicki G. Lumpkin PhD BCC, Chaplain, Hospice of Rockingham County, Reidsville, NC.

We Make the Road by Walking: A Year-Long Quest for Spiritual Formation, Reorientation, and Activation
Brian D. McLaren (New York: Jericho Books, 2015, 304 pages, softcover, hardcover, Kindle, Audiobook)

McLaren’s book is a devotional work, intended for a general Christian audience of those who would like to deepen their relationship with the Divine, but “[i]t is also a work of public and practical theology—theology that is worked out by ‘normal’ people in daily life” (xii). It assumes that when it comes to spiritual formation, we are all works in progress, making our own road or path as we engage the process. McLaren presents an image of the Holy whose desire is that followers live lives characterized by “aliveness.” He explains, “What we all want is pretty simple, really. We want to be alive. To feel alive. Not just to exist but to thrive, to live out loud, walk tall, breathe free. We want to be less lonely, less exhausted, less conflicted or afraid…more awake, more grateful, more energized and purposeful” (xv).

The book is readable and engaging. It is arranged with a chapter for every week, thirteen chapters per quarter, roughly following the liturgical year. There are additional chapters for Christmas Eve and the triduum. Chapters are short, roughly 5 pages long. They begin with suggested scripture passages followed by discussion and conclude with six questions for reflection. The questions follow a standardized format: one focusing on what struck the reader as new, engaging, or novel; one inviting the reader to tell a related personal story; one engaging children; one inviting action; and one encouraging reflection for the coming week. There are also questions at the conclusion of each quarterly section.

We Make the Road by Walking is intended for both private study or for use in small groups. It concludes with two appendices. The first provides a liturgical form including the eucharist that could be used either in a group setting or in a private devotional setting like the liturgy of the hours. Appendix two offers guidelines for group discussion.

The author presents an excellent resource for those who find the usual daily devotional guides too limited in scope or content. It offers a middle ground between the usual pocket-sized quarterly devotional books and commentary study. It is meaty, but accessible. McLaren understands that his interpretations may be new or different from what readers are used to, advising that “you are asked only to give it an honest and open hearing, and you should feel free to prefer another interpretation” (xiii). McLaren presents an enticing invitation to greater spiritual depth and awareness.

Reviewed by Vicki G. Lumpkin PhD BCC, Chaplain, Hospice of Rockingham County, Reidsville, NC.


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