Paraclete Press Announces the Launching of a New Publishing Imprint



October 2018 — In time for the Feast of Saint Francis of Assisi, Paraclete Press releases the first title in its new imprint for Franciscan spirituality. San Damiano Books will publish for children as well as adults, fiction and nonfiction, spirituality and practical theology, books by vowed Franciscans and laypeople/writers—all with a passion for the spirit of Saints Francis and Clare.

Coming October 4, 2018:

St. Francis and the Animals: A Mother Bird’s Story 
by Phil Gallery, illustrated by Sibyl MacKenzie
Format: 8.5×11, 32 pp. Hardcover / ISBN: 978-1-61261-973-6 / $17.99
Ship Date: 9/13/2018 / On Sale: 10/4/2018


“Stunning illustrations and engaging text. This book is sure to spark valuable conversations.” —Fr. Pat McCloskey, OFM, Franciscan Editor, St. Anthony Messenger

If the animal kingdom can understand the life and teachings of the world’s most famous saint, so can children, who will be delighted by this simple, beautiful book for the ages.


Francis of Assisi In His Own Words: The Essential Writings, 2nd edition 
by Jon M. Sweeney
Format: 5×7.5, 160 pp. Trade paper / ISBN: 978-1-64060-019-5 / $16.99
Ship Date: 10/2/18 / On Sale: 10/23/18


“A very good translation of [Francis’] original writings, in words that we can now appreciate.” —Richard Rohr, OFM

Sweeney has expanded his bestselling compilation to include six additional writings such as: “The Form of Life He Wished for Clare,” “The Sermon to the Birds,” and “The Source of True Joy.” An expanded introduction and notes add historical and theological context.

Authors under contract for 2019 include two more books for children; Wendy Murray with a new biography of St. Clare; multi-platinum recording artist John Michael Talbot reflecting on Francis of Assisi’s “Sermon on the Mount” by looking at one of the saint’s lesser-known writings, “The Admonitions”; and Amid Passing Things: Life, Prayer, and Relationship with God by new author Jeremiah Myriam Shryock, CFR.

Happy Birthday Saint Teresa of Calcutta!

Read and enjoy this excerpt from Suzanne Henley’s Bead by Bead: The Ancient Way of Praying Made New in honor of Saint Teresa of Calcutta’s birthday (August 26th).

Chapter 4:

Clearing Your Cache and Beginning to Pray

Regardless of how many years and how earnestly you have prayed, author John McQuiston reminds us, “Always We Begin Again.” Each attempt at prayer is a new one. There are no referees, no winning score, no out-of-bounds, no penalties. You must bring your whole self to it. Several years ago I heard Richard Rohr say, “I have prayed for years for one good humiliation a day, and then, I must watch my reaction to it. I have no other way of spotting both my denied shadow self and my idealized persona.” Prayer can be messy. It is not—and should not be, I believe—a tidy package. We must wade through the mud first. As Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh reminds us, “no mud, no lotus.”

Jesus tells us in Matthew 6:5–6 to go into our closet to pray. Closets are of course our first choice as children when playing Hide and Seek, and that often describes prayer: Hide and Seek. And we are still children. However, I retreat at the image of the Holy Spirit in my closet—ancient dust balls roiling among the cluttered clogs and worn-out sandals, pants legs slapping about, a sweater or two slumped off hangers—and the two of us hunkering knee to knee amid the musty odor of tee shirts and jeans whining, “Put me in the laundry!” This closet with its housekeeping embarrassments of course is the untidy closet of my heart. And, as messy as it might be, this is exactly where we all must begin. One of the main points of prayer, it seems to me, is in fact to air our dirty laundry.

We can spend a lot of time and effort hiding from what we know to face in prayer—“That of which we are not aware, owns us,” James Hollis reminds us in Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life—but sometimes roles switch; the Spirit sometimes seems to hide, sometimes for months, even for years.

In 1989 Mother Teresa came to Memphis to speak. Two of my children were quite young and could have no idea at the time of the enormity of devotion and accomplishment of this tiny woman, but I wanted them to have a memory of her presence. For some lucky reason we were given aisle seats. We waited a long, very fidgety time. Suddenly there was a stir. Mother Teresa did not come out on a stage two hundred feet away but was actually walking up the aisle toward us. The packed coliseum was quiet with respect and awe as she approached. Then she was beside us, and my son Walker, in the carrying voice of an excited child, stood up and exclaimed to the hushed auditorium, “Look, Mom, she has on sandals! And they’re just like mine!”

We now know that Mother Teresa, as many of us do, experienced her own very dark night of the soul. According to her letters—which she never believed would be made public—the desolation and abandonment by God she felt lasted for fifty years, beginning almost from the moment she arrived in Calcutta to begin the work she believed Jesus had commanded her to do. Continuing her work, and always smiling (“a mask,” she called it), she wrote of the “torture,” “emptiness,” and “darkness” she lived with for the majority of her life. For a period she even stopped praying. We balk and flounder, searching for an adequate explanation for this gut-wrenching information—or dismiss it with a shrug of psychological shoulders. As unutterably painful as those years must have been for her, though, they tell each of us in our own dark nights of searing doubt and unbearable loneliness that we’re in good company. We all wear the same sandals.

Paraclete Fiction | “This Heavy Silence” | Preview

August 2018 — Paraclete Fiction expands its acclaimed collection by bringing Nicole Mazzarella’s This Heavy Silence back to print.
Mazzarella’s novel captured the literary world’s attention when it was first published back in 2005, by breaking the norms of Christian fiction with a heroine’s controversial choices, edgy themes and language. In 2006 the top fiction award from Christianity Today, and a subsequent Christy Award, confirmed Library Journal’s “highly recommended” accolades.
Now Paraclete is pleased to reintroduce readers to Mazzarella’s mesmerizing portrait of betrayal, forgiveness, and the mysteries of grace. In This Heavy Silence, discover the world of Dottie Connell — strong, resilient, and deeply loyal, she farms three hundred acres in rural Ohio alone, having sacrificed love and family for land she does not own. A sudden, inexplicable event leaves the daughter of her childhood friend in her care. Pressured by her community to allow her former fiancé to raise the child, Dottie must face the past she has worked fifteen years to forget. 
“Nuanced characterization, finely wrought scene-setting, subtlety in addressing questions of faith, repentance, and forgiveness.” —Christianity Today Book Awards 2006, Winner in Debut Fiction
Part One: 1962
Chapter 1

Thousands of seasons of deciduous rot in the sandstone ridges of this Ohio valley yielded wheat fields that brought farmers begging to buy Brubaker land. My great-grandfather convinced a Brubaker to sell him three hundred acres, not revealing to anyone he had discovered a spring-fed patch of land. Land that would never go dry. So while our land never rivaled the Brubaker’s in size, my great-grandfather made a name for the Connells. And names could last for generations.

In winter, this valley belonged to no one. Snow covered the fields and then drifted over our fences. I wrapped my scarf around my head and stepped into my boots on the black rubber mat by the door. The snow from last night’s milking puddled between a row of boots that promised seasons to come: my mid-calf green rubber boots for spring, the tan suede hiking boots with yellow laces for summer.

Quickly lacing my boots, I worried Zela’s daughter would wake before I returned from milking, or, worse, that Zela would arrive and find her alone. Zela had never left her only child in my care. Most women assumed I had no instinct at all if I didn’t have the sense to marry and give birth to my own children.

Reaching for my thermos on the kitchen counter, I noticed a neatly stacked pile of cloth next to the telephone. I flicked on the light. Zela’s aprons. Starched and pressed. This was the second time Zela had left her aprons at my house. Yet she knew I would never use them. Cooking could not stain my work clothes any more than transmission oil, so I never bothered.

In November when she first left these aprons, I folded them over a hanger and kept them near the door, hoping to prompt her to explain why she hadn’t simply tucked them in a drawer or donated them to her church’s rummage sale. Only a month later, she slipped in the side door quietly. By the time I came into the hallway, her coat bulged slightly from the aprons tucked inside. Her silence encouraged my silence. If I noticed her taking them, she didn’t want me to mention it.

“What does he say to make you stop wearing aprons, and then make you start wearing them again?” I asked. Zela rubbed her hands on her legs as if she already wore an apron that could absorb the nervousness in her palms. I knew she wouldn’t answer. Our friendship was based on old secrets, not new ones.

A look inside “Give Love and Receive the Kingdom”

From the greatest living expert on the history of English spirituality comes the most expansive collection of her work ever published. Benedicta Ward’s Give Love and Receive the Kingdom is designed to both inspire and educate. Read the Introduction, and prepare to be inspired.

These papers were all written for different times and occasions, and I am grateful to the editors at Paraclete Press and SLG Press for the suggestion of reprinting them under one cover. Reading them together is for me like looking through windows of different coloured glass at many people, times, and places; my task is that of a window-cleaner, making it possible for others both to see through clearly and pass over to find pasture, as I do among such friends. The message of these writers is certainly not one of ease and comfortableness, but of faith, hope, and love. Only after wrestling with God, like Jacob in the dark, and being like him permanently wounded, can anyone go towards the brother one has hated and say, “I see your face as the face of God” (Gen. 33:10). They all used their own life experience, starting where they were, to express the impact on them of the Gospel through self-knowledge and God-knowledge, by submission and repentance, coming closer always to the reality of God in Christ. They spoke out of lives lived within and on behalf of a world as torn and agonizing and filled with doubt as our own.

There are many written sources to draw upon in understanding the inner life of our predecessors in these islands. They were human beings like ourselves, and in exploring their journeys we can be refreshed and encouraged in our own. A search for their backgrounds could begin with the records of the evangelisation of the sixth-century Germanic settlers in Britain who came from different places: there were the existing British Christians, the missionaries sent by Gregory I from Rome, and contacts with Christian Gaul, as well as missionaries and preachers from Ireland and Iona. In effect, the message they brought came originally from Rome, coloured by the different ethos of each group, and they intermingled freely, creating eventually a homogeneous Christian nation out of disparate tribes and peoples.

The chief sources for knowing about them at this early stage are the works of the Venerable Bede (635–736), the greatest scholar of his age and the only Englishman to have been accorded the title of Doctor of the Church. He made it his life’s work to offer the new Christians the traditions of Mediterranean Christianity, linking them with the world of the New Testament and the Fathers of the Church, not just as a part of the past, but as life here and now for a new and living people of God.

The basis of Anglo-Saxon spirituality was thus formed by love and not by force. Augustine began by praying and fasting in a small church with the queen and her court, establishing a lasting link between church and state which was dependent on unity of prayer and reality of conduct. This link is seen clearly in the conclusion of the Synod of Whitby where a major division was healed not by reasoned argument or political force but by trust in the resurrection: “King Oswiu said, ‘Since Peter is the doorkeeper I will not contradict him, lest when I come to the gates of heaven there may be no-one to open them.’”1

In a rough world, existing ways of life were not so much destroyed as transformed: a love of the glory of gold became a love for the beauty of holiness. Awareness of the terrors of both nature and super nature around them, as well as of sin within, led to a strong emphasis on penance, personal as well as corporate, which coloured devotion and affirmed the centrality of the Cross and the Last Judgement. Love of a lord was transferred to love of the high King of Heaven, and love of kin could be the basis of care for members of the Church. This instinctive need for companionship was transferred also to the saints, who were known as always present and always available in prayers, miracles, and visions.

Bede preserved for us details of this lived Christianity in stories which show the ideals which inspired the new Christians. This was done orally by preaching but also by using the new technology of writing. Augustine had brought with him to a non-literate society a silver cross and an icon of Christ, but also a book which would change the ways of communication forever. He offered these to King Ethelbert and his thanes as tokens of “a new and better kingdom.”2 His approach was in line with the policies of Pope Gregory the Great who sent him, in that he was prepared to build on the existing ideals and customs of the English and transfigure rather than destroy. A serious, practical, and lasting spirituality was the result, based on the Scriptures and the liturgy of the Church, which is illustrated by the cover of this book, which shows the picture of Christ in majesty. It is taken from the Codex Amiatinus, the oldest copy of the Latin Vulgate, which was made at Wearmouth Jarrow in Bede’s time, thus presenting the Bible as the main window into the light which shone through the lives of our friends.

The sense of living in the ante-chamber of heaven, with the shadow of judgement as well as the promise of mercy always present, coloured all aspects of later medieval devotion, but the eleventh century saw a turning point towards a more personal interior approach. The key figure in this was the theologian-monk Anselm of Bec, who ended his life as archbishop of Canterbury (1033–1109). He made a break with the long tradition of prayer which flowed mainly through the channels of the psalms by creating out of them a new kind of poetic material for the use of anyone who wanted to pray. His Prayers and Meditations arose out of his own private prayer, and he sent copies of them to those of his friends who asked for them, together with simple and practical advice about how they could be used. Naturally his prayers were shaped by his monastic background and interests, but from the first they were popular with men and women living a busy Christian life in society for whom the monastic life of prayer was an ideal with which they longed to be associated. Anselm’s secretary and biographer, Eadmer, wrote of these prayers:

With what fear, with what hope and love he addressed himself to God and his saints and taught others to do the same. If the reader will only study them reverently, I hope that his heart will be touched and that he will feel the benefit of them and rejoice in them and for them.

Anselm saw no rift between Christian thought and Christian devotion. As well as being a good pastor, a man of prayer, and an affectionate friend, Anselm was an outstanding scholar, with one of the keenest minds of all time, and he applied his intellect to the lifelong task of thinking about and living for God. Every part of his fine mental equipment was stretched to its limit, seeking and desiring God in practise as well as in thought. At the end of the Proslogion he wrote:

My God,
I pray that I may so know you and love you
that I may rejoice in you
and if I may not do so fully in this life,
let me go steadily on
to the day when I come to that fullness.

It is clear from this quotation, which comes from the last part of his most brilliant philosophical work in which he first proposed what was later called “the ontological argument” for the existence of God, that Anselm knew very well that God is not known by the intellect on its own but by the heart and mind together. His own discovery about prayer was what he passed on to others as “faith seeking understanding.” In his advice about praying, he insisted that the first necessity was to want to pray and be ready to give up some part at least of concern with oneself in order to be “free a while for God.” In a quiet place, alone, Anselm offered the person praying words that he himself had prayed, arising out of, but not confined to, the Scriptures used in personal and intimate dialogue with Jesus.

It is possible to find the same approach in Julian of Norwich (1342– 1413.) Julian composed two books, one a long version of the other, called Revelations of Divine Love, expressing the flowering of English prose as well as containing the first sustained theology to be written in English. She lived as an anchoress in a cell built onto the wall of the church of St. Julian in Norwich. In the twentieth century, she became well known and indeed popular, but she was very little known in her own times and all but lost sight of at the Reformation. Her works were recovered and edited only at the end of the nineteenth century, as if they had been preserved especially for our times. Her theology was based on a background of immense global suffering and despair. The time and opportunity for a peaceful life was challenged in the most basic manner possible by universal attacks of a fatal plague, called the Black Death, which struck at everyone and recurred; it was almost impossible to assuage.

There are so many deeds which in our eyes are evilly done and
lead to such great harms that it seems impossible to us that any
good result should ever come from them.5

She was well aware of the sinful state of all: “I saw and understood that we may not in this life keep us from sin as completely as we shall in heaven.” But she was sure that here and now we should not despair: “Neither on the one hand should we fall low in despair, nor on the other be over reckless as if we did not care but we should simply acknowledge that we may not stand for the twinkling of an eye except by the grace of God and we should reverently cleave to God in him only trusting.”

With this dark background of fatal illness and continuous warfare the poet Langland (1332–1400) presented a vision of realistic but loving hope similar to that encountered in Julian:

I dreamt a marvellous dream;
I was in a wilderness I could not tell where . . .
and between the tower and the gulf
I saw a smooth field full of folk,
high and low together. (Piers Plowman)

The tower of truth and the gulf of sorrow: and between them a field full of folk. This vision is concerned with the folk between these two extremes, and in some ways, it is a true vision of Christian life in any time or place. There is always a dynamic unity between the content of a faith (the “tower of truth”) and the way it is lived out (“the gulf of sorrow”) not by a special elite but by the “folk” themselves. Spirituality cannot be seen as a pure intellectual stream of consciousness flowing from age to age among articulate people only; it is always the lens of the gospel placed over each age, each place, each person.

This unity of understanding within the changing settings of the disasters and challenges of life can be seen in Bede, Cuthbert, and Anselm. Alongside them are the hermits of the twelfth century, and the fourteenth-century writers Julian of Norwich and Langland. Andrewes, Taylor, and Frank in the seventeenth century show how the same approach to inner pilgrimage continued in changing social contexts, a stream of ever-moving pilgrims going towards the life of heaven.

We are all engaged in this pilgrimage with them, and there is refreshment in such companionship. We are all Bunyan’s Christian, and as well as being his Mr. Despair, we are also his Faithful-unto-Death. We with him will cross over in the loving company of friends, where for us as for him “all the trumpets sounded for him on the other side.” Between the tower of truth and the gulf of sorrow our predecessors stood, as we do, within a field full of folk with only one rule: “Give love and receive the kingdom!”

Benedicta Ward, Oxford, 2018

International Cat Day with Margaret, “The Pope’s Cat”

Today is International Cat Day 🐈, when people around the world are expressing love for felines and concerns about caring for them wherever they are found. Our cat-loving publisher and author Jon M. Sweeney is in the house. In honor of this day, two readers will win signed copies of Jon’s best-selling book, The Pope’s Cat — all you have to do is enter by 5 pm today!

How do you enter? Easy! Post a comment on this blog or on the Paraclete Press Facebook page about how much you love Margaret, the Pope’s cat, or any other cat in your life, and you will be entered to win. Photos also welcomed!
This contest will be closely monitored by our #1 feline judge at Paraclete Press, Margaret. The winner will be announced tonight!
Paws up — who wants to win? Good luck! And have a purrrr-fectly lovely National Cat Day!

Fade to Gray: 5 Days ‘Til Samuel


Take a minute with this article by John Gray about the backstory to his book “God Needed A Puppy” coming out next Tuesday! You’ll be gad you did.

In six days (now five) a beautiful puppy named Samuel will be in book stores all over the country. How he got there is really something.

You see, two years ago today I was with my wife at a pet store shopping for bowls, beds and toys suitable for a new dog. A tiny German shepherd puppy was exactly five weeks old and almost ready to come home with us. We met him a day after he was born and visited him once a week so he’d know our scent and faces when he came home with us. We named him Samuel. There was something regal and almost biblical about that name I thought.

For those who read this column frequently or visit my Facebook page you know what happened next. He did come home, melted our hearts and then six months later broke our hearts when he went down for his morning nap and never woke up. The doctors said it was just one of those horrible, fluke things; one in a million. He died in early January of 2017 and I felt like a gunshot victim who refused to go and get treatment, carrying the bullet and pain around with me.

Then one Sunday evening I sat at the very computer I’m typing this column on now and started writing a story. I learned when I was a kid that if something was really bothering me it helped to write about it; kind of like getting the poison out. So I wrote a story about a man who loses his dog and is asking God for some explanation.

The next day I went back to the story and decided it shouldn’t be a man asking God for answers but a child who loses his dog.

The third day I took all the humans out of the story and replaced them with a fox and an owl and suddenly this was no longer about me or my pain at all. I looked at the computer screen and realized I’d almost written a children’s story by accident. I say “almost” because I didn’t have an ending so I asked God to give me one and went to sleep.

I woke up on the fourth day and had my ending. Whether it came from the cinnamon bagel with butter I ate that morning or the almighty is open for debate but I had my ending.

Oh, and my title, “God Needed A Puppy.” So what to do with my little story?

I tried sending it to publishers and agents and nobody wanted it. A few were nice and said they liked it but they didn’t want it. One person told me to consider taking God out of the story (or at least the title) and I told her without God there wasn’t a story but thanks for the advice.

When a nice woman I didn’t know painted beautiful pictures to match my words I decided to just publish it myself. The plan was to sell a couple thousand copies and donate any money I made to pet shelters. Then something amazing happened, people loved the book and purchased 14,000 of them.

By November of 2017 I’d done all I could do with it. The publishing world said no, we sold what we could sell and lots of animal shelters got nice big checks. Mission accomplished. Yet something nagged at me. What if there could be more? Something told me to try one last time.

So late one night I emailed my story to five more literary agents only this time I focused only on those who represent Christian authors. If God was the problem maybe he was also the solution. Less than two days later I had my agent and three months after that I had a book deal with Paraclete Press. And now six days from today a puppy named Samuel will be in book stores all over the country in a gorgeous hardcover version.

After signing a deal with my publisher I “googled” Paraclete Press and learned they are based in Cape Cod not two miles from a hotel I’ve stayed at with my family many times. I could only laugh because from top to bottom this improbable story has had so many coincidences or what my illustrator Shanna would call “God’s hand guiding it.”

For example — the portrait of Samuel on the book cover was painted by her the day he died. She didn’t know me, she just heard he died and started painting him; a stranger from five states away. Random acts of love, like Shanna’s, have made this book a reality.

I don’t know what happens next with “God Needed A Puppy.” I do know it has helped lots of kids and pets already and that’s enough. Still I’d love to sell more and help even more. I hope Samuel is proud of me. And I hope when I die and meet my maker God says to me, “Thanks for keeping me in the title John. Thanks for putting me first.” Then I’ll say, “You’re welcome Lord, now do you mind getting me my puppy?”

John Gray is a news anchor on WXXA-Fox TV 23 and ABC’S WTEN News Channel 10. His column is published every Wednesday. Email him at

Naked and Unashamed— Undressing one another’s history

Jerry and Claudia Root and Jeremy Rios give so many wise and practical suggestions on how to prepare for marriage — here’s a great one for how couples can really get to know each other better in the months leading up to marriage, or even if the years afterward!


What we suggest next is a project and exercise for couples to perform together—and this is meant to be fun! Procure for each of you a notebook or journal in which you can write down significant things about your beloved. Set aside some time and get away to a nice, quiet, cozy place and there take turns sharing and listening to one another, writing down what you hear. This activity—of investing time to discover your partner’s life history—is a project that not only can be sustained throughout your engagement, but sets a foundation for conversation that will carry you throughout your marriage. Make it so that the sharing of your life story with your partner is a priority, especially in the months preceding your marriage. Each of you, after all, has a life that was lived before you met, and learning about that life can be an interesting and ongoing part of your relationship.

There are any number of ways to go about this project together. One possibility would be to organize it according to the periods of your life, going through each era and sharing the most significant events and how they affected you. As you cover this historical ground, makes sure that you are getting to know the person’s hurts and sorrows, dreams, disappointments, and defining moments. You can begin small with things like where you were born, why you were born there, how your parents happened to live there at that time, and what extended family was there at the time. If you don’t know the answers, call up your beloved’s mother or father—they will likely be more than happy to fill in the details. Continue to ask further questions: What were your family dynamics? Who were your best family friends growing up? How did your family change when other people were around? What was your school experience like? Who were teachers that impacted your life? Where did your family go on vacations? What were these vacations like? How were the family interactions? Where were you in the birth order and how did that define you as a person? The questions can be endless, and together you can chase them with the delight of children opening packages on Christmas morning.

In an exercise such as this one, follow-up questions are just as important as the initial information—not only because they reveal the interest of your partner, but because they invite further and deeper reflection into our own histories. Each partner should practice listening attentively, asking questions that get to the deeper matters. “What did that feel like?” “Do you remember that often?” “Was that move hard for you?” “How did your parent’s divorce affect you?” Asking questions about our emotions surrounding these memories is a powerful way to re-access the memories themselves, and learning to ask such questions that encourage a person to go deeper will help the relationship grow.

In addition to talking about these experiences, you may even want to visit the historical places relevant to your partner’s life if you grew up in different locations. It is always interesting to see where they lived, played as children, went to school, and even meet old friends and relatives. If you can’t do all this while engaged, you can plan it in the future years and include it in your notebooks, snapping photos along the way and collecting other memorabilia. Such a project could in time become something special to pass down to your children.

All of these recommendations, of course, are simply guidelines—as a couple you are free to be as creative as you want to be. We have seen couples who have expanded this project much further. The key is to establish an attitude of abiding interest in the wholeness and complexity of the person you plan to marry. As Wordsworth wrote in the poem quoted at the beginning of this chapter, “The child is the father of the man.” When we spread the table of our memories before one another we are bearing witness to the child, the adolescent, and young adult who gives shape to your personalities today.

Developing historical intimacy in this way lays a foundation for all the other forms of intimacy, not only because it invites a fully orbed knowledge of your spouse, but because the way that we engage this kind of conversation also shapes how we communicate. There are some very important factors that shape this historical conversation and can with intentionality extend to all your conversations.

The dominant factor is vulnerability. The willingness to open up and speak to your partner about the significant events that have shaped your life requires a kind of risk. These are memories that you may never have spoken to another soul in your life. The choice to be vulnerable in that moment is a choice, profoundly, to trust. For many people, it would be much easier to take off their actual clothes than the emotional clothes that cover their life stories! But the work must not be avoided, and the man or woman who refuses to be vulnerable also refuses to trust. In such an environment intimacy can never truly grow.

Vulnerability is also powerful as a door to your own self-knowledge. As your partner asks questions about your life, following the trail of the conversation wherever it goes, insights and revelations about your own story can emerge. Vulnerability means not only sharing what has been private, but also permitting someone else to offer perspective on your story. The person who refuses to be vulnerable not only fails to be intimate with someone else, but he also fails to truly know himself.

When these conversations range into vulnerable matters, it is very important that the listening partner honor the vulnerability of the sharer. Imagine what it would feel like to stand naked in front of your partner, and then to have that person point at some part of your body, and laugh, or to ignore you while looking at a phone or television screen. Would you feel valued in that tender moment? If the answer is no, then consider how you can strive to give value to the memories shared with you. This, fundamentally, is an activity of listening and accepting; you are not listening in order to pass judgment. For the sharing partner, it is an opportunity to be accepted for things that you alone know about your life. Ensure that you honor one another in the sharing of these often-precious memories.

These moments of undressing offer an unprecedented opportunity to share our deepest secrets, and secrets we cannot talk about control us. If there are places in your life you cannot reveal to the person you are going to marry, not only are you implicitly saying that it’s okay to have secrets in this relationship, but to that same degree you are implying that you do not trust your partner. This might indicate either that your partner is untrustworthy, or in fact that you yourself are untrusting. But if you are willing to take the risk you might discover levels of trust that you never before anticipated.

There are times when individuals have experienced past events that they would rather forget, and they might because of this have a difficult time sharing. A block to sharing like this informs you that there are some deep issues that may need to be addressed. Nevertheless, we must recognize that becoming intimate involves sharing your whole self—the good, the bad, and the ugly. If your partner cannot handle hearing about the past things in your life that were difficult for you, that person may not be the one for you. Jerry once knew a woman who confided in her fiancé that when she was a teenager she had an abortion. Unable to cope with this information, her fiancé broke off the engagement, breaking her heart in the process. Several years later she met another man and again confided in him. This time, when she had shared her story, he took her in his arms and said, “I’m so sorry you had to go through that. I love you even more for sharing such a deep hurt with me.” They went on to have four children of their own, and she even became involved in a prolife organization. Sharing these hurts before marriage establishes a clear foundation for your relationship and can also provide unprecedented and unexpected opportunities for healing.

If you find that you cannot share your past with the person you love, you should probably find out why that is the case. Secrets kept early in the relationship typically erupt later, and quite possibly in a destructive manner. We have found that often when couples share these deep parts of themselves, the other person sincerely makes an effort to show acceptance and tell the person they love how much closer they feel. Love multiplies where vulnerability is sincere. And the truth of the matter is that we each have things in our past we are ashamed of, from acts we did or were done to us, to thoughts we had or have. True intimacy develops where couples embrace the risk and take the courage to share their lives with one another.

There is one more thing to be kept in mind. Historical undressing demands that we guard the secrets that are shared with us. Inasmuch as we hear these stories without judgment—accepting that the story is simply part of the person sitting beside us—we must also be good stewards of that which is shared with us. In marriage, your secrets are mine, and my secrets are yours, and together we hold them in trust for one another. And by building such a foundation on the basis of openness, honesty, and acceptance, you establish a great trajectory for your future family.

Greetings from Pink Floyd

In this excerpt from Aging Starts in Your Mind: You’re Only As Old As You Feel Chapter 3, author Notker Wolf, shares how rock and baroque music do go together after all.

Chapter 3: Greetings from Pink Floyd

This summer I had a two-week holiday in a monastery on Lake Wolfgang. (My annual leave is usually shorter and sometimes canceled altogether.) While I was there, I received an invitation to the Tollwood Festival in Munich, and I must admit I didn’t know exactly what it would be like: a kind of Woodstock but lasting for weeks and without the mud? It didn’t matter, the offer to perform with my band in the Andechser tent was appealing.

Well, I said to myself, if Bob Dylan, Mick Jagger, and others from the glorious age of rock music, with their lined faces, still dare to perform, you can do it too—in any case they won’t have to get you off any drugs first. I accepted the invitation.

Someone drove me from Austria to Munich. “Oh yes, you’re the father from the mountain,” said the security guard at the entrance to the Tollwood grounds with a glance into our car. Apparently, he’d seen the television interview I did on the summit of the Dürrnbachhorn with Werner Schmidbauer. “Tell you what, I’ll let you through here, then you won’t have so far to walk to the tent.”

I already felt at home, even though I’d never been here before. The guard signaled his colleagues, so the way was open all the way to the Andechser tent, and after a short sound check (the other band members had arrived earlier) we were ready for our concert, two hours of rock music in the tent from 7:30 to 9:30. Although I have to admit I sometimes left the stage. A concert that long is too much for me these days, plus I don’t have the time to rehearse enough songs to fill an evening program. I’m lucky if I find two or three hours at Sant’Anselmo a few days before our performance to put on our CD and rehearse my parts on guitar flute. So I played in two of the four sets, and my band did the rest on their own.

Apart from the singer, our band always has the same members it did in the good old days when I was Archabbot of St. Ottilien and the others were students at our school. That’s a long time ago now; my fellow musicians have also grown older, but unlike me, they aren’t aware of it yet.

And it’s still tremendous fun for everyone. For example, we did a performance under the southern sky in front of a large audience at an arena in Pescara, Italy, dubbed “Pink Floyd Sends Greetings from Pompeii,” that was unforgettable. As was as our show soon afterward in Seeon, a magnificent monastery on a lake island in Bavaria. Seeon has made a name for itself as an event location, and I was invited to give a lecture there to the managers of the Ingolstadt hospital. “Bring your band along,” they said. After the talk at dinner in the magnificent, colorful refectory, I still had my doubts about playing in this setting, wondering if rock and Baroque really went together. But a little later the set got going and I enjoyed playing as usual, and the experience was a real miracle.

That’s what the head of trauma called it anyway—it was absolutely unbelievable how all differences disappeared immediately, all formalities forgotten, all inhibitions gone. Everyone danced until they were ready to drop: consultants, lawyers, administrative staff, the whole management team, men and women, all mixed up together. Rock and baroque do go together after all.

This was followed the next evening with a performance in Carinthia, Austria, inside the venerable walls of St. Paul, where on the following morning I would be saying the celebratory Mass and preaching, before flying back to Rome in the evening.


Let’s catch our breath. I know the whispers that are going around. From one direction I hear the heavy sigh, “He’ll never fit in with the rest of us.” From another the warning, “Be careful, you’re the abbot primate, please behave accordingly.” And then there are my primary school classmates, who to this very day visit me in Rome from time to time and exclaim with amazement, “Werner, [my birth name] you haven’t changed a bit!” What can I say?

Yes, it’s probably true—no one who’s known me for a long time will notice any big difference today. I’ve never been antisocial; my constant activity isn’t a gift of old age. And, while it’s true I’m the abbot primate, the expression “befitting one’s social status” has never meant anything to me.

How I go about my work, how I define my role and how I shape it, is my decision, and anything that could possibly qualify as “unseemly” I clarify with the Lord Jesus Christ: he’s my model.

Of course I’m going to make mistakes, but I don’t lose sleep over it because I know nobody’s perfect, and I don’t need to be either. Christ himself appointed the far-from-perfect Peter as the leader of his followers, a person who even disowned him when it came to the crunch. So we can go wrong, but we shouldn’t let ourselves be influenced by the worriers. I’m reminded of a grave inscription in the Campo Verano, a cemetery in northern Rome, which says, Non flectar, “I will not bend.”

“Slow down a bit,” some say; “Please tone it down,” say others. And I say, “Come with me.” Come, for example, to Altenburg Abbey close to Vienna for the interreligious song event. The first benefit concert was held there in 2012 to restore the nearby Jewish cemetery that was devastated in 1938. The abbot of Altenburg had urgently asked me to participate. “We need you, and don’t forget your flute!” Oh no, another appointment. But miraculously I found a gap in my schedule, and I traveled there without knowing what awaited me.

With four hundred visitors, every seat in the monastery’s library was filled. I was in good company. The singer was the chief rabbi of Vienna, a man with a sense of humor and a powerful voice; another rabbi played the keyboard, the Protestant bishop of Vienna was drummer, and a gentleman from the local finance ministry was saxophonist—completing the spectrum, as he had left the church.

Behind us was the boys choir of Altenburg, and we gave it all we’d got, playing Yiddish songs and gospel songs, and receiving enthusiastic applause at the end of every number. Afterward, when everyone was standing around in the richly decorated, brightly lit library, still suffused with the music, a high-ranking politician from Lower Austria came up to me and said, “You know, Abbot Primate, our church in Austria is at such a low ebb. If it wasn’t for you Benedictines. . . . You’re the enlivening element.”

The enlivening element? I am grateful to hear that. It’s exactly what I want to be. It’s exactly what I wish for my order as a whole—to have a stimulating effect on society, in all the places in the world where we’re represented: this is one of the three great visions that guides me.

To achieve this goal we must of course be alive ourselves, and this requires abandoning well-worn tracks. I can’t determine the pace of the world, I have no influence on the great upheavals of the time, but we mustn’t isolate ourselves from these changes, and lose contact with the world, with life, with other people. After all, what are we here for? For the world, life, and other people.

I think my continuous connection with the world of rock music has had very positive consequences. First of course, for myself, because I love rock music, and after all these years it still epitomizes vitality and zest for life. Second, however, because I reach many people through this music.

For example, in Barcelona, where I was to give a lecture to the executives of an international corporation. In the introductory session the moderator told them about our band’s performance supporting the legendary Deep Purple, and when they didn’t quite believe him he referred to the YouTube entry “Deep Purple mit Abtprimas Notker Wolf—Smoke on the Water.” (Yes, we played the song together.)

As if on cue all the participants took out their smartphones and were too busy tapping and swiping away to listen to my words of welcome, but with this I had won them over. Abbot Primate Notker Wolf supporting Deep Purple? On stage with Ian Gillan and Steve Morse? An introduction like this greatly increases receptiveness. It breaks with convention, makes it easier to talk to people, and spares me the usual small talk.

Sometimes the rock music even merges informally with the Christian message. During our Tollwood performance in the Andechser tent a banner with the words “Highway to Heaven” hung above the stage, a combination of the AC/DC title “Highway to Hell” and the Led Zeppelin classic “Stairway to Heaven”; I would never have worked it out myself, but of course it fit superbly. And many of the songs we play are original compositions and reflect our origins at the St. Ottilien mission monastery.

My favorite song is “My Best Friend,” and if you listen carefully, you’ll realize that we’re singing about Jesus Christ, the only one who doesn’t abandon you if all your other friends let you down. To play it safe, I introduce such songs myself, also so no one in the audience thinks my black Benedictine habit is just a particularly crass stage outfit.


Travels abroad, stage performances, meetings, conferences, lectures, interviews, TV appearances, magazine columns, books, and building projects: admittedly some things in the repertoire traditionally belong neither to the responsibilities of an abbot primate nor to the role of an almost-seventy-five-year-old.

One side effect is the challenge of managing my schedule. This involves never-ending tinkering: appointments constantly have to be changed, inserted, or added. Because of special requests and spontaneous inquiries, half of it ends up being improvisation, so no one else could possibly be expected to get their head around it? That’s why I take my schedule into my own hands.

Another side effect is amateur psychologists having reasons to whisper about me. “He needs it,” they say. “He can’t do without it. He’s determined to make a difference and leave his mark on the history of the order. He can’t stop for fear of losing his importance.” Or, “He’s running away from himself.”

It’s true that I have a duty as abbot primate. It’s also true that I see it as my greatest and finest duty to open as many doors to the future as possible for my order. That would scarcely be possible if I didn’t keep on the move, respond to contemporary trends, try out new and perhaps even unheard of things, while at the same time giving an example of the vitality I wish for my order. We’ve both reached a certain age, my order and myself—in the case of the former it’s 1,500 years. Wear and tear are not alien to us.

But that shouldn’t be a reason for either the order or me to slacken. Of course no one is irreplaceable. But as long as we live we’re needed. That is a possible answer to the questions confronting anyone in the third phase of life. We may be unimportant as individuals, but the ideas we promote, the efforts we make out of love or conscientiousness, are not.

We’re needed. And it’s wonderful to be needed. It may be quite strenuous, as in my case. But when people ask me, “How do you manage it? How can you stand it?” the answer is simple: Joy is my lifeblood—joy in my work, joy of meeting people, joy in music. Also joy in nature, the different shades of green of the oaks, pines, cypresses, and olive trees in the southern sunlight. Joy in the sea I like to sit by and swim in; joy in the warm golden tone of the evening light flooding into my study.

It’s Tomato Season!

It’s Tomato season!

In this excerpt from Bead by Bead: The Ancient Way of Praying Made New Chapter 6, author Suzanne Henley, shares how the first tomato of the season is like a prayer.

Jesus and Tomatoes Coming Soon

Unsolicited prayers often sneak up and startle me in mid-activity.

The summer we spent in North Carolina, Jim and I stopped at one of the ubiquitous fresh-produce buildings that line the stretch of two-lane Highway 64 we traveled daily between Hendersonville and Brevard. We asked the two proprietors, North Carolina versions of PBS’s Two Fat Ladies, for their best tomatoes. One of the women laughed as she pointed to a basketful of unappealingly warped and bruise- colored tomatoes. We looked back at her, querulous. “Yep,” she said, as she chose two of those scary-looking, over-heavy growths and plopped them into our hands. “They’re Cherokee Purples, Honey. Take ’em home and try ’em. You’ll be back.”

Fixing dinner that night, I washed the tomatoes and, feeling like Abraham approaching Isaac, raised the knife rather high. They looked tough. But as the richly deep-red slices slowly fell apart from the knife, I was swept in a sensual rush to more than sixty years earlier in my grandmother’s kitchen. I remembered the sun splashing through her kitchen window on the still life of tomatoes lined up fresh from the garden, the smell of the vine still clinging, the fierceness of the reds, the beads of salt releasing the musty scent of fecund earth. Eve, still naked, bit into that forbidden fruit, its burst of juice sliding down her chin and neck. I was nine years old again.

I was even aware of the phenomenon I think we’ve all experienced, of thinking in childhood that a grandparent’s home seemed large and grand and then, years later, realizing it was only a normal-sized house. In that moment, though, my grandmother’s kitchen was a palace of linoleum, and that parted tomato contained all the assumed magic of my childhood. I think I gasped a little, trying to stop time, understanding after several years David Craig’s poem “Pentecost”:

What is this Holy Spirit?
And what is it doing in the eggplant?

Jim and I made daily visits to the Fat Ladies. Each night for the next two weeks after dinner, I cleaned up while he hunkered in the cabin’s basement methodically scraping each tomato seed from our plates onto laid-out, yellowing newspaper. We were familiar, too, having heard her in concert the year before, with Kate Campbell’s ironically joyous song “Jesus and Tomatoes Coming Soon,” based on a sign she’d seen one day near Asheville. We sang its refrain every day on the way to or from the Fat Ladies.

I didn’t know that Jim had funneled all those dried seeds into a ziplock and carefully driven them home to his freezer, where they waited, silent and patient, or, two years later when we married, that he’d brought the ziplock of seeds from his old refrigerator to our new home. Because our own yard was torn up by construction and we had no garden, Jim presented my daughter with a handful of those seeds to plant without much expectation. She nurtured them for months like a firstborn. Her cut into that first tomato, which she presented to us with ceremony, was once again a moment of childhood magic. The Holy Spirit had been patient for three years.

And now I, and Abraham, and Eve, and my nine-year-old self wait each summer for that first Cherokee Purple from our garden, and I say, slicing into that first bite, Oh, thank you, Holy Spirit. Each year that first tomato is a prayer.

Poverty: Responding Like Jesus

Take a moment to take this quiz on poverty found in Chapter 9 of Poverty: Responding Like Jesus.