2020 Association of Catholic Publishers first place award in spirituality
Thomas Merton's sessions with the young monks at the Abbey of Gethsemani showcase Merton's brilliant ability to survey the key figures and synthesize their writings, inspiring his listeners and readers with what it means for the spiritual life. Like its companion volume, A Course in Christian Mysticism, this book is a collection of fifteen lectures that get to the heart of Merton's belief that monastic wisdom and spirituality are applicable for everyone. 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 desert spirituality.
Jon M. Sweeney is an independent scholar, author, critic, and publisher. His books include The Pope Who Quit: A True Medieval Tale of Mystery, Death, and Salvation, Inventing Hell, and several books on Saint Francis. He also edited A Course in Christian Mysticism, by Thomas Merton. He is a regular contributor to America and The Tablet and is the publisher and editor-in-chief at Paraclete Press. He is married, the father of three, and lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
"A Course in Desert Spirituality offers keen insight into the wisdom of early Christian mystics like St. Gregory of Nyssa, John Cassian, and Evagrius Ponticus. It makes the Desert Mothers and Fathers come alive. But it also reveals much about the spiritual heart of Thomas Merton himself."
Carl McColman, author of The Big Book of Christian Mysticism and The Unteachable Lessons
"This is a solid and welcome collection for those seeking to live the spiritual life."
Cistercian Studies Quarterly
"This well-paced discourse on desert spirituality hosts just enough of an overview to be a course and just enough depth to be a dramatically impactful read. The work, followed by options for further reflection and discussion, makes for an inspiring personal or group engagement. Any reader of A Course in Desert Spirituality will undoubtably come away with new insights on both desert spirituality and one's own spirituality."
Cassidy Hall, Author of Notes on Silence and director of Day of a Stranger
"In today's turbulent world many women and men . . . are looking toward Benedictine and earlier traditions for a guide on how to live. Here they are carefully spelled out again for our guidance."
From the foreword by Brother Paul Quenon, OCSO
"Merton was a formidable scholar, a quality demonstrated in ample measure in the 15 lectures included in this book. Editor Jon M. Sweeney, whose oeuvre is fast approaching 40 books, has done a yeoman's job of abridging this material, making it much more user-friendly and far more accessible to a wider, general audience."
Englewood Review of Books
"This fine book is filled with great insight and inspiration! Isn't it amazing that in this materialistic and superficial world, early desert spirituality would have so much to teach us today? And even more because it is filtered through the mind and heart of a true master teacher from our own time! This is very good food indeed."
Fr. Richard Rohr, OFM, Center for Action and Contemplation, Albuquerque, New Mexico
“An opportunity for oblates to gain insight into Thomas Merton and learn from one of the twentieth-century’s greatest Catholic teachers. The study materials at the back of the book include primary source readings and thoughtful questions for reflection and discussion, suitable for oblate group discussion.”
Thomas J. Rillo, Benedictine Oblate Quarterly
"There is much to recommend in this book for those in monastic formation, monks and nuns who have been long professed and those living outside of monasteries."
The Downside Review
“As with many of Merton’s writings, there are several ways of reading it. One could take a genetic approach, seeking to uncover vestiges of Merton’s biography. The text could also be read as a short history of monastic practice or a snapshot of the novitiate under Merton’s tutelage in the 1950s before the drastic changes of Vatican II. It could also be read, and this is the way Sweeney intends for us to read it, in a lectio divina fashion—that is, as a spiritual discipline to mature our souls and draw us nearer to God. At its best, this book is a primer on the mystical tradition which offers guidance on whom to read, what to look for, what to watch out for, and how to approach the tradition.”