Experiencing the Presence of God and a Pilgrimage to the Heart of an Ancient Spirituality
By Norris J. Chumley (Author)
(reviewed on March 15, 2011)

A rare investigation into the spiritual life of Eastern Orthodox Mystics.

Through the repetition of one prayer—“Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner”—monks, nuns and hermits have found inner silence and union with God for nearly 2,000 years. With the intention of bringing this prayer to the masses, Chumley (Columbia University Institute for Religion, Culture and Public Life) and his friend Father John secured permission to visit and document the devotional way of life preserved in ancient monasteries. As they toured the Holy places as privileged guests, they crossed the Egyptian desert in an air-conditioned van to the oldest Christian monastery on Earth, viewed Moses’ still flourishing burning bush at St. Catherine’s on Mt. Sinai and experienced the powerful ringing of the world’s largest bell at close range in Kiev. “Without prayer, a monk is just a man in a black dress,” says Father Jonas in Kiev. The book includes full-color photographs and wonderful insights into a legendary world that still exists. In particularly evocative prose, Chumley recalls the myrrh-scented remains of saints as he views stacks of bones in the monks’ cells, tells heroic but often gory tales of famous saints’ demise and shares the peaceful wisdom of the monks. Although impressed by the warmth and love exhibited by the Holy people he encountered, Chumley remains an outsider and writes for the intellectual, rather than devotional, reader.

A blend of anthropological study, spiritual quest and travelogue that sheds light on the search for inner peace.