Monday, 16 April 2018

Notices of new Carmelite books (2) PHILIP HARVEY

Damien Peile, the Provincial Delegate for The Carmelite Family, issues a Monthly News via email.  These bulletins include my own notices or brief reviews of books of interest to readers in Carmelite spirituality and history. Here are the second four. These notices are posted quarterly on the Library blog. Philip Harvey.

Maria Petyt is not a household name. A new book about her is unlikely to change that, at least not overnight. Edited by Joseph Chalmers, the erstwhile Prior-General of the Order, this collection of essays gives her context in 17th century Flanders, her life in the Hermitage of Mechelen, and responses to her mystical writings. In particular, responses to a newly found Latin manuscript, biographical in nature but filled with prayers and sayings of Maria of Saint Teresa, as she is known in religion. It’s a researcher’s dream and welcome gift to the history of Carmelite spirituality.

Such a discovery opens up meaning on a lost world. Not only do we learn about Maria’s prayer life and her deeply informed knowledge of Saint Teresa of Avila’s teachings, we read all of this against a backdrop of the Dutch War. Given that the cost of the book is in three figures, your best choice is to borrow it (‘Maria Petyt: a Carmelite mystic in wartime’, Leiden, Brill, 2015 ISBN 978-9004-29186-7) from about the only place in Australia with a copy, the Carmelite Library, Richardson Street, Middle Park.

-     -  Philip Harvey (April 2018)

When I first started working in the Carmelite Library there were many animated and, often, scholarly conversations with the librarian, Paul Chandler O.Carm. Paul’s knowledge is catholic in every sense of the word, and his historical imagination is far reaching, reasons why we have such a rich collection. A particular interest, nay almost obsession it seemed to me, was his interest in the Latin words of the Carmelite Rule, which he has spent hours considering in depth. The literal meaning is obvious. Paul’s interest was in context and purpose. Why did Patriarch Albert of Jerusalem choose these words rather than others? What hidden meanings could be gleaned about the earliest Carmelite communities?

In 2015 his own most recent satisfaction with an English rendition was published in Melbourne by Carmelite Communications. This handsome pamphlet adds to Paul’s many larger works, a distillation of his contemplative reflection on a foundation document of the Order. Copies are readily available by writing to this email

-          - Philip Harvey (March 2018)  

This year the Carmelite Centre presents a series of monthly seminars called Carmelite Conversations. I knew little more about Ruth Burrows than her name, though aware of her reputation, which is why I offered to talk about her for the April session. Where to start? “Ruth Burrows is a Carmelite Nun from Quidenham in Norfolk, United Kingdom. She is the author of a number of bestselling books including Guidelines for Mystical Prayer and Essence of Prayer.” This is the two sentence biography of Ruth Burrows on the website of Bloomsbury Publishing, her current publisher. 

The two sentences divide her life into one of strict religious observance and contemplative writing about spirituality. This is itself helpful as a way of thinking about Ruth, because hers is a life primarily of withdrawal from the world of action into the world of prayer. Her books reveal this world on every page. She is someone who has rejected the vanity of the world, that staple so often required of biographies, electing instead to live a life without fanfare or shock horror chapters. It is good to discover someone whose words are essential, but whose personality is withdrawn, almost anonymous. There is no entry for her on Wikipedia. My Lenten rule is to read as much of Sister Rachel, as she is called in community, as possible.

-        -  Philip Harvey (February 2018)

This coming May the renowned spiritual writer Margaret Silf visits Melbourne, where she will conduct a four-day workshop at Kardia Formation Margaret Silf’s name appears in a new acquisition at the Carmelite Library. She writes: “We are living through times of disillusionment and bewilderment – a global ‘dark night of the soul’. Carmelite spirituality understands this terrain. This book guides us expertly into the spirit of Carmel, outlining its background, introducing us to major Carmelite visionaries … and inviting us to explore the Carmelite method of quiet contemplative prayer, just ‘gazing on God’.”

The book she is talking about is ‘The way of the Carmelites : a prayer journey through Lent’ (ISBN: 978-0-281-07529-4) It is the last book of James McCaffrey OCD to be published in his lifetime; Fr James died on Christmas morning in St Luke’s Hospital, Oxford. As many of you will know, he wrote beautifully on Carmelite tradition throughout his life and, to judge by the glowing reviews, this book is no exception. It is ideal Lenten reading.

-         - Philip Harvey (January 2018)

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