I first met Dom Luke Bell OSB when he was a monk at Downside Abbey. The Downside Community are part of the English Benedictine congregation, and part of their tradition is that they have parishes and schools. I bumped into Dom Luke again when I was visiting parishes for the St Barnabas Society, and then was not surprised to learn that he had transferred to Quarr Abbey on the Isle of Wight.
Quarr is a wonderful place. It became most well know recently through Tony Hendry’s book about Fr Joe–one of the holy monks of that Abbey. I knew Quarr well because my Anglican parish was on the Isle of Wight. I have many fond memories of retreats there, my friendships with the monks and finally, it being the site of our reception into the Catholic Church in February 1995.
So it was with some delight and anticipation that I discovered Dom Luke Bell’s new book A Deep and Subtle Joy. This book is a genuine delight. The monastic life is a truly incarnate Christian life. Through work, prayer and study the monks immerse body, mind and spirit in a life intended to be one with Christ. Fr. Luke takes this tendency on the part of the Benedictine tradition and makes it come to life with a meditative visit to Quarr Abbey itself.
So we go on a tour of the monastery, and as we do we are able to see through the ordinary aspects of life to their deeper meanings. Fr. Luke shows us the chickens, the pigs, the sheep and the bees and meditates on each one. Then we’re given a tour of the monastery: the guesthouse, the monastic ruins (Quarr is built a few hundred yards from the ruins of a medieval monastery) the cloister, the refectory, the tea room, the music room, the cell, the church, the cemetery and the nearby endless sea. Each portion of the visit breaks down into a chapter of the book and provides Fr. Luke a creative and beautiful meditation on the deeper meanings of each aspect of the monastery.
It is difficult to express how beautifully and completely a book like this captures the Benedictine spirit. St Benedict created a rule that helped his monks to live a graced life–a life that carried in every moment the sacrament of God’s presence. Somehow, Fr. Luke has captured the essence in his own book.
He has a simple, almost child-like style. Like the best of monks he welcomes us to his world and explains things with a charming delight and simplicity. Beneath the simplicity is a depth of wisdom and insight borne out of a life of contemplation and prayer.
This book deserves to be a classic of Benedictine spirituality. So often now books are consumables and even worthy religious books go through their first printing and expire. I hope remains available for years to come. It deserves to be basic reading for all who would seek to understand the essence of the spiritual life and the heart of the Benedictine way.
The book is available on Amazon here.
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