In 2005, I read Father Joe, Tony Hendra’s memoir of his encounters with “the man who saved [his] life.” The opening lines sets the table: How I met Father Joe. I was fourteen and having an affair with a married woman.
Obviously, Tony was a troubled youngster. One awkward (but ultimately fortunate) day, the husband walked in on his wife and Tony in each other’s arms. Concerned for Tony’s well-being, the husband contacted an English Benedictine abbey and connected Tony with Father Joe who, for the following decades, became Tony’s guide, spiritual father and friend.
I believe all of us, even those of us with far less memorable prompts than Tony, find ourselves in need of wise spiritual guides, friends who will listen to our stories, learn the contours of our heart and then help us to see the truth and help us to stay true to our path. This world is confusing. And wearying. We need help.
I have a good father who I talk with regularly. He counsels me on any major decision, and he listens in on many minor ones. My dad is a man of integrity. He is a gift.
I also have a pastor. He’s retired now and lives a good distance from me. We converse via letters. It’s a slow, leisurely conversation that happens across miles and months. It’s not so much his answers to my questions that I find life-giving (in fact, answer would be a bit generous – he’s sparse on specific advice); rather it is the patient, plodding reminders he offers, simple nods toward what is true and beautiful and worthy of my love and energy.
Several years ago, I found another wise, spiritual guide, another pastor of sorts: François Fénelon. Two friends introduced me to an old volume of letters passed between Fénelon and those he was guiding in faith, most of whom served in the debauched court of Louis XIV. These letters, old as they were, touch on precisely the themes I wanted to explore: fear, doubt, faith, hearing God, prayer, loneliness, friendship, community, boredom, relentless noise, suffering.
I was so taken by Fénelon’s gentle (but sharp) voice that I wanted others to hear these conversations. I wanted others to find a guide in Fénelon even if they hadn’t yet found their own flesh-and-blood pastor or Father Joe. So, I wrote a book, and Paraclete was kind enough to publish it. However, it never was made available digitally. I’m pleased to announce that now it is, on the Kindle and the Kindle app on ipad, etc.
For the next 8 days or so, it will be available for $2.99. Then the price will jump. You may download it, and if you find that you like it, I’d much appreciate it if you’d pass the word to your friends, small groups — or even irreligious friends curious about matters spiritual. There really is something here for most everyone. And as you might know in this crazy book world, if friends don’t help me out, my work is dead in the water.