Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Lenten Reading: The Ancient Path by John Michael Talbot

From Goodreads:
People often imagine that the Church Fathers looked like their icons and smelled of incense, heroic figures wrapped in fine liturgical vestments of silk and lace, engulfed in billows of smoke from their golden censers. Yet, truth be told, even in their writings they resemble more the tattered cloak of Jesus or the dusty sweat-soaked habits of the early Desert Fathers and Mothers. Theirs is an utterly incarnational spirituality. It is heaven-sent, but it moves forward with both feet on the ground of the earth.
In this powerful work, John Michael Talbot tells the story of how these men deeply influenced his spiritual, professional and personal life. Coming to the Christian faith as a young man during the turbulent 1960s, he soon grew a fond of the Church Fathers, including St. Ambrose, St. Jerome, St. Augustine and Gregory the Great and found guidance, reassurance and wisdom on his path to Jesus.
“The First Epistle of Saint Peter,” writes Talbot, “tells us that we are ‘a spiritual temple built of living stones.’ The early Church Fathers represent the first rows built upon the foundation of the Apostles. And that sacred building project continues throughout history to our time today. But it rests on the Fathers. It depends on them.”
This is so well done.  I think Talbot perfectly blends his personal experiences with church history and his thoughts on its significance for believers today.  Everything flowed really well and I didn't feel like there were huge divisions between the thoughts on history, modern application, and Talbot's own story.  And he didn't just tell a good story - he made church history come alive in a way that was intriguing and meaningful, and his applications for modern life were easy to understand.  I feel like I came away from this book with a great appreciation for the church fathers, for orthodoxy, and for how some of the ancient practices can be applied to my life today.

Entertainment Value
As above, I thoroughly enjoyed my read of this book.  I particularly appreciated the chapter on prayer and meditation and the use of the Jesus Prayer ("Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.") and its use in ancient times.  Growing up in a very Protestant denomination, I was always taught to pray spontaneously, rather than by rote.  Talbot lays out a great reasoning behind the use of prayers that many would consider rote and how they can be used as a form of continual communion with God.  His description of how Eastern Orthodoxies use these prayers goes along so well with what I am learning about yoga and the importance of breath.  I've actually put a few of his ideas into practice during my yoga over the past few days and feel like it's really changed my practice.

I highly recommend this book to readers who are interested in learning more about church history, orthodoxy and liturgy, and how the Church Fathers can play a role in our faith today.  It's written to a Catholic audience, but I found it largely applicable to my Protestant beliefs as well.  I'm so glad I read it and I'm definitely going to be looking into more information on church history and the stories of our Church Fathers.

Thank you to Blogging for Books for providing me with a copy to review.

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