The Monastic Way
|— for people who lead a busy life,
but long for greater spiritual depth —
Dear Spiritual Seeker,
Please enjoy the following FREE sample copy of my monthly publication, The
Monastic Way, for the month of October. This year I have reflected on famous
works of art in The Monastic Way and I'd like to tell you the reason in this
I write The Monastic Way to reflect on the things that have meaning to all of
us as we grow and work and age and try to make sense of our lives. And, I like
connecting with people like you who are open to thinking through the issues
You can have this life-changing printed publication mailed to you each month
at the SPECIAL RATE of $16.95/year, good through October 31, 2012.
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My Heart’s Desire
The psychiatrist Rollo May argued in the mid 20th century—a period of great social change—that one of the quickest ways to determine what’s
going on in a society is to concentrate on what’s going on in the art of the time. His idea was that artists are more emotionally sensitive than
the average person and are, therefore, a good bellwether for the rest of us.
August Macke, this month’s artist, is a case in point. He was born in 1887 and was killed during WW I. Years before that he began to depart
from the Expressionism of the time and its injection of human emotion into otherwise realistic pictures and began instead to experiment with
avant-gardist use of color, scale, space and design to enable us to “see” the emotional dimension of an object or event.
His Woman with a Parasol in Front of a Hat Shop is a clear example of the trend. The picture of the woman herself is not a picture of a
particular woman—there are no features, no expression, no details at all. She is simply “woman.”
The “street,” too, is a suggestion, not a scene, not a specific street, just a street—any street. And finally, the color red—vivid reds on an
otherwise dull background of bluish-grey—draws the content together and makes the point. This picture is about being fascinated, consumed,
possessed by one thing and one thing only: a new hat. Despite the fact that she not only has a hat but a parasol, as well. So why does she
want a new hat so badly?
Suddenly, the nonphotographic “picture” is about somebody. It’s about us. It’s about what attracts us in life, what fills our souls as we go
about the business of living. It’s about the level of our concerns, our passions, our concentrations.
It asks us one of the controlling questions of life: What is important to you and what are you doing to feed it or change it?
The avant-garde German Expressionists left even the traditional conventions of Expressionism to focus us on the spiritual questions of life.
They make us look inside of ourselves to see what’s really there. They make us ask ourselves whether what we are concentrating on in life
right now is actually worth a life after all. They make us think about what it is doing to us and what we are doing to it, with it.
It is a picture, an art form, worth contemplating in times both of want and of wealth.
Monday, October 1: We do not possess what we yearn for; it possesses us. And therein lies the problem. What fixates us stands to drive out
of us the consciousness of other worthwhile things in life. “There is only one big thing—desire,” Willa Cather wrote. “And before it, when it is
big, all is little.”
Tuesday, October 2: A healthy life develops concerns and involvements in every area: spiritual, physical, emotional and intellectual. What we
think about determines what we are.
Wednesday, October 3: Interests don’t come out of nowhere. They depend on the amount of time we give them in comparison to other
dimensions of life. Unless we’re careful, interests easily become fixations.
Thursday, October 4: To play computer games eight hours a day doesn't leave much time for anything else like sports or family or education or
museums or reading or just good conversations with friends. To paraphrase the proverb "all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy," all one
thing and nothing else makes Jack a dull boy.
Friday, October 5: What we spend our time on will even determine our social life and the kind of people with whom we associate. It can be
wonderful; it can also be deadly dull.
Saturday, October 6: The search for life is an excursion through a myriad of desires. We go from one to another, being enriched by all of them
one way or another, until we begin to feel both stretched and at home. “Life,” Alice Caldwell Rice says, “is made up of desires that seem big
and vital one minute and little and absurd the next. I guess we get what’s best for us in the end.”
Sunday, October 7: To be obsessed with one thing only as life goes by denies us the opportunity to enjoy everything else in life.
Monday, October 8: Whatever it is that attracts us may well be the sign of ability in us as well as interest. “Our visions,” Audre Lorde says,
“begin with our desires.”
Tuesday, October 9: If we want to deny ourselves the fullness of life, all we need to do is to explore only one dimension of it, however good
it may be.
Wednesday, October 10: The ideas and objects with which we feed the mind will determine what comes out of us in the end—in the way we
live our lives, and in the nature of our pursuits. Why would we be surprised that the lust, for instance, that never becomes love comes out in
pornography? As Helen Waddell says, “What was the desire of the flesh beside the desire of the mind?”
Thursday, October 11: To make any single thing in life my total preoccupation is to allow myself to be consumed by it. Then all judgment
becomes skewed, all life is reduced to a minuscule sliver of itself, all the other gifts of life are reduced to nothing. As Adélia Prado put it,
“Compared to my heart’s desire/ the sea is a drop.”
Friday, October 12: It is so easy to lose a sense of proportion in life. No single thing, however important, is all of life unless we make it so.
Saturday, October 13: It’s changing our minds about what’s worthwhile in life that, in the end, makes all the difference.
Sunday, October 14: The very act of becoming attracted to something brings with it the responsibility to control its place in our life instead of
becoming gorged on it. Otherwise, it will control us; we will never be able to live an independent life ourselves.
Monday, October 15: One of the pitfalls of attraction lies in the fact that we can become irritated with anyone else who has what we want.
The attraction itself enslaves us to ourselves.
Tuesday, October 16: Just because we think we like a thing does not mean that its good for us. An attraction must be explored, not simply
absorbed into our lives uncritically. Otherwise, we may find ourselves immersed in the useless, the mundane or the superficially beguiling.
“Desire,” said Marie de France, “can blind us to the hazards of our enterprises.”
Wednesday, October 17: If we like what we see, it is more than worth it to stop and take another look.
Thursday, October 18: The worst error in life is to make ourselves like the wrong person, the wrong job, the wrong path rather than to trust
our interests and our talents.
Friday, October 19: Don’t worry too much about making wrong choices in life. Just keep going, keep looking, keep trying things out till you
feel the glue on your feet. Then stop and test it for awhile. As the poet Rumi says, “What you seek is seeking you.” Give it a chance and it will
Saturday, October 20: Be open to all of life but realize that it is best lived as a process of elimination. “The secret of happiness,” Francis H.
Bradley says, “is to admire without desiring.
Sunday, October 21: Once you get what you’re seeking, ask yourself what you are going to do with it once you have it and realize you don’t
want it after all. Point: Make sure you already live in a way that proves to you that life is bigger than any single thing, however good it may be.
Monday, October 22: To be fully happy with something, we must be fully independent of it. André Gide says, “Complete possession is proved
only by giving. All you are unable to give possesses you.”
Tuesday, October 23: One of the best exercises in life is to make a list of all the things that make you happy. Now look at it. If anything on
that list takes away from your ability to have friends, beauty, time, spiritual development, intellectual development, personal development
and family, think carefully before you give yourself away to it.
Wednesday, October 24: When the accumulation of things absorbs our spirit and our life, we may be living but we don't have a life. "It is
preoccupation with possession, more than anything else," the philosopher Bertrand Russell writes, "that prevents people from living freely and
Thursday, October 25: The desire to accumulate leads us to hoard. We give ourselves to getting things whether we need them right now or
not. Consumerism chokes our souls, drowns us in clutter, pollutes our free time, leaves us perpetually unhappy as we spend our lives with
getting the next new thing rather than enjoying what we have.
Friday, October 26: Consumerism is destroying the globe: polluting the air, draining the oceans. “Consumption patterns,” Wangari Maathai
taught, “continue at the expense of the environment and peaceful co-existence. The choice is ours.”
Saturday, October 27: A capitalist economy tells us that to be happy we need to exchange money for the greatest number of goods we can
get. A Christian life depends on our creating life out of love—love for others, love of beauty, love of nature and love of God. It requires us to
exchange only those things that enable that kind of life for all. Judy Collins wrote: “Most of what we take as being important is not material
whether it’s music or feelings or love. They’re things we can’t really see or touch. They’re not material, but they’re vitally important to us.”
Sunday, October 28: Because we live in a world that counts happiness in the number of gadgets and gizmos and bling we get at every stage of
life, it is possible that people who have every toy the world has to give can die unhappy. Epictetus puts it this way: “Wealth consists not in
having great possessions but in having few wants.”
Monday, October 29: It isn’t that having things makes a person unhappy. The problem is that not having things does the same thing and few
people teach us that till it’s too late.
Tuesday, October 30: How can we know what to have and what to get rid of? Easy. William Morris says, “Have nothing in your houses that you
do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.”
Wednesday, October 31: Sister Madeleva Wolff, CSC, former president of St. Mary’s College, Notre Dame, put the whole tension between
desiring and needing in one sentence. “I love to go to Marshall Field’s in Chicago just to see how many things there are in the world that I do
FOR A LISTENING HEART
SIT WITH THE PAINTING AND “READ” IT SLOWLY.
What does this painting say?
What does this painting say to me?
What do I want to say to God through this painting?
What difference does this painting make in my life?
What feeling or thought or word does it evoke?
a slow, meditative way of reading,
is an ancient monastic spiritual practice.
In this year's Monastic Way, Joan Chittister
uses the works of great artists
for her spiritual "reading," always asking,
What of God is in this for me?
Woman with Parasol in front of a Hat Shop by August Mack
Museum Folkwang, Essen
©Blauel - ARTOTHEK
ABOUT THE ARTIST
August Macke (January 3, 1887 – September 26, 1914) was one of
the leading members of the German Expressionist group Der Blaue
Reiter (The Blue Rider). He lived during a particularly innovative
time for German art which saw the development of the main
German Expressionist movements as well as the arrival of the
successive avant-garde movements which were forming in the rest
of Europe. Macke integrated the elements of the avant-garde
which most interested him.
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|Order now at this
special rate and
Monastic Way for
less than $1.50 a
month. Makes a
"My wife and I were
introduced to The
Monastic Way when
It has become an
important part of our
home life and our
reflection on our
relationship with God."
JK, Pueblo CO