Tools Matter For Practicing the Spiritual Life
In her previous book, Thoughts Matter* The Practice of the Spiritual Life, Sister Mary Margaret Funk, elaborating on the teaching of John Cassian, dealt with the eight classic 'thoughts' that distract us from the presence of God. In her new...
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In her previous book, Thoughts Matter* The Practice of the Spiritual Life, Sister Mary Margaret Funk, elaborating on the teaching of John Cassian, dealt with the eight classic 'thoughts' that distract us from the presence of God. In her new book, casting her net more widely, she treats more than two dozen 'tools' or practices of the spiritual life. Many of these (such as fasting, vigils, ceaseless prayer and manual labour) derive from the desert mothers and fathers of the fourth and fifth centuries, but just as many come from later times* the practices of emptiness based on The Cloud of Unknowing, of recollection (Teresa of Avila), of self-abandonment (J.P. de Caussade), of the presence of God (Brother Lawrence), of colloquy (Gabrielle Bossis), and of the Little Way of Theerese of Lisieux. The book concludes with a chapter on discernment, spiritual direction, and the limitations of each tool. Tools, says Funk, are means, not ends. The book includes a comprehensive bibliography.
Funk turns to the wisdom of the desert fathers for the means of removing obstacles to spiritual growth, which include thoughts of food, sex, possessions, anger, dejection, and pride, among other preoccupations. Redirecting thought away from such weeds in the garden of the spirit can lead to a greater awareness of God. This somewhat Zen-like method to mental discipline may seem impossible at first, Funk admits, but those who succeed at it are rewarded with a liberating experience as they come to observe and control individual thought processes. Drawing on the writings of the fifth-century monk John Cassian, Funk goes on to explore deeply using such tools as memory, imagination, and rational thinking--tools right out of early Christianity--to work on inner healing. She also explains how other positive tools, such as ceaseless prayer, manual labor, and isolation, may lead to uncluttering the mind and purifying the heart.
Sr. Mary Margaret Funk is the author of Thoughts Matter, Tools Matter, Lectio Matters, and Islam Is . . . (Lantern, 2008). She was formerly the Executive Director of Monastic Interreligious Dialogue. She lives at Our Lady of Grace Monastery in Beech Grove, Indiana.