Observing an encounter between Catholic and Buddhist monks in 1996 at the Abbey of Gethsemani, near where he grew up in rural Kentucky, Fenton Johnson found himself unable to make the sign of the cross. His distance from his childhood faith had become so great - he considered himself a rational, skeptical man - that he could not participate in this most basic ritual. Impelled by this troubling experience, Johnson began a search for the meaning of the spiritual life, a journey that took him from Gethsemani to the San Francisco Zen Center, through Buddhism and back to Christianity, from paralyzing doubt to a life-enriching faith.
Keeping Faith explores the depths of what it means for a skeptic to have and to keep faith. Johnson grew up with the Trappist monks, but rejected institutionalized religion as an adult. While living as a member of the Gethsemani community and the Zen Center, however, he learned to practice Christian rituals with a new discipline and studied Buddhist meditation, which brought him a new understanding of the deep relationship between sexuality and faith, body and spirit. Changed in profound ways, Johnson ultimately turned back to his childhood faith, now inflected with the accumulated wisdom of his journey.
Johnson interweaves memoir, the personal and often shocking stories of Buddhist and Christian monks, and a revealing history of the contemplative life in the West. He offers lay Christians an understanding of the origins and history of their contemplative traditions and provides the groundwork needed to challenge orthodox understandings of spirituality. No matter their backgrounds, listeners will find Keeping Faith a work of great power and immediacy.
Would you recommend this book to a friend? Why or why not?
Honestly, I didn't love the narration. The book could have used more vigorous editing and rearrangement. That being said, the essential narrative is luminous.
What was one of the most memorable moments of Keeping Faith?
There is an epiphany of the role of ritual and the physical in the growth of the emotional and spiritual.
How did the narrator detract from the book?
The female voice (narrator) for a character who is so importantly finding his identity as it does or does not relate to his sexually is frequently confusing.
Do you think Keeping Faith needs a follow-up book? Why or why not?
A friend recommended this book and I was very interested in reading it, but the narration make it very difficult to stay interested and keep listening. Her reading style was very slow and mechanical, especially in the beginning. I loved the sound of her voice, but I felt like I was listening to a robot. Despite this, I did listen to the entire book because I have an interest in monasticism and I like hearing about other people's spiritual journeys. I am not sure I would recommend this book, at least not in audio form.
1 of 2 people found this review helpful
Any additional comments?
This was a book I will probably listen to several times. There was so much in there from biography to history to dogma to philosophy all woven into what felt like a great conversation with someone who bared their soul to me. "Wow" is all I can say.
Johnson grew up outside a Monastery in the South. When he realized he was gay, he felt like the church rejected him, and he in turn rejected religion.
Years later, at a conference with the Dalai Lama, his curiosity was piqued and he decided to research monastic life as a reporter. His feelings soon began to change.
This is a thoughtful and thought provoking meditation on personal versus institutional spiritual experience and where one fits in in a place that seems to reject who one is.
Fenton Johnson has a fine mind and is a contemplative writer, who holds you in the palm of his hand.
1 of 3 people found this review helpful