Thursday, November 29, 2012

Shelf Life [adult]

A Room with a Pew: Sleeping Our Way through Spain’s Ancient Monasteries by Richard Starks and Miriam Murcott
When one picks up a memoir of a traveler who chooses to stay in monasteries, one might expect a somewhat religious bent to the writing, and experiences more spiritual than secular. This makes A Room with a Pew a contradiction, as it is less about religion and more about a journey looking for the root of faith.
The writers are agnostic at best, explaining the history of Catholicism in Spain and its various monasteries which they use as cheap alternatives to hotels or B&Bs. They are intrigued but not inspired by those who have devoted their lives to Christianity.
The monasteries in which they stay are run by different orders which follow Catholicism in slightly different ways, and within those orders – Cistercian, Benedictine, Trinitarian, Dominican and Franciscan – there are varying degrees of religious observance.
The authors muse on these differences, meet and debate with their hosts of nuns and monks the roots of faith, and do so with a healthy dose of irreverent skepticism. They confess being disturbed by a religion that “has degraded and abused its god… then also eats his body as well as drinks his blood.”
It is not until they visit the strict-observance Cistercian “Trappists” of El Monasterio del la Santa Maria de las Escalonias in Andalucia do they step into the shoes of the monks for themselves and live as they do for a few days. Here, although the authors do not “find faith,” they come close to understanding at least some reasons for which people are drawn to the life, and while they agree religion is mostly a good force that people need, they also realize that life is not necessarily any easier for those who have faith in it.
As much a readable history of Catholic monasticism as a memoir of a spiritual journey, A Room with a Pew is an enjoyable, sometimes highly amusing and often thought-provoking look at faith by a couple who try hard at staying neutral on the subject, and let you come to your own conclusions.
This review appeared in The Stratford Gazette on November 29, 2012. Written by Robyn Godfrey, Librarian.

No comments:

Post a Comment