Wil DERKSE, A Blessed Life, Benedictine Guidelines for Those Who Long for Good Days. Collegeville, Minnesota: Liturgical Press, 2009. pp. 95. $11.95 pb. ISBN 978-0-8146-1863-9.
Reviewed by Susanna L. CANTU GREGORY, University of Dayton, Dayton, OH 45469

Wil Derkse, a Benedictine oblate and Religious Studies professor from the Netherlands, offers A Blessed Life as a complement to his first text, The Rule of Benedict for Beginners (Liturgical Press, 2004). This second text seems aimed at a general audience interested in spirituality as well as the numerous visitors to monasteries each year who may wish to learn the whys of Benedictine life. Derske makes a case for the "vitality and attractiveness" of the monastic tradition, particularly through his explication of the relevance and accessibility of Benedictine "attitudes" and practices for those outside the monastery.

With an emphasis on ways Benedictine life stretches backward in time and across the globe in scope, Derske offers a contemporary and lay-oriented interpretation of practices of silence, disciplined reading, work, hospitality, and good speech. He pays particular attention to the "twelve signposts" of humility detailed in the Rule, illustrating how each one offers a corrective to struggles in contemporary culture. It is clear that for Derske gentle "[Benedictine] manners…pleasantly contrast with the noisy coarseness that so often characterizes our society" (90).

A unique aspect of Derske's interpretation of Benedictine life is his last chapter on the often-neglected aspects of a school for the soul: Benedict's insights into discipline and space, discernment, corrections of flaws, rest and patience, and perfection. Yet, even with the inclusion of these topics, at times it seems that Derske underplays the distinctly Catholic or even Christian convictions and commitments undergirding Benedictine life. Readers may wonder whether Benedictine tradition merely entails good humanism. This may or may not be the author's intent. Nevertheless, peppered with anecdotes about the abbey and monks to whom he is oblated and about the cultural concerns of his religious studies students, Derske's text provides a light read as well as careful scholarship for those curious about all things Benedictine.


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