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October 15, 2010
A review of the PM’s diary

An Excerpt of a Review of “DIARY OF A PRIME MINISTER: Ten Days Among Benedictine Monks” by Ralph E. Gonsalves, SFI Books

by The Rev. Victor H. Job, Methodist Minister. Fri, Oct 15, 2010

A review of a diary cannot be done along the lines of a critical review of a book that deals with a specific subject or discipline. It must be an examination of the contents of the diary so that the reader can gain some insight into the life of the writer and the lessons that can be learnt from the writer’s experiences. So that’s what I am focusing on – the diary and its contents.{{more}}

“Diary of a Prime Minister: Ten days among Benedictine Monks” is a special diary, because it contains the daily reflections of a Prime Minister who was on a l0-day spiritual journey in a Roman Catholic Monastic institution called Mt. St. Benedict in Trinidad and Tobago. The writer calls his journey “a searching spiritual journey.” (p.68, para.2). I will now examine this spiritual journey with the following in mind: (a) to assess what has happened to the writer as a result of this experience and (b) to assess the nature of the spirituality that he sought and how that spirituality informs our spirituality.

I note, from the outset, that the writer states the purpose of his spiritual journey: “I arrived at Mount Saint Benedict, Trinidad…for the start of a 10-day spiritual retreat of rest, reflection, prayer, writing, and Benedictine guidance.” (p. 16, para.1). He knew what he was about and he knew what he wanted. Note the word “retreat”. What is a retreat? In the religious sense, it is a temporary withdrawal from the mundane things of life – from our work, the hustle and bustle of life – to be apart with God, for rest from physical exhaustion, mental or spiritual fatigue, for peace, refreshment and renewal; to have a better focus of life and a better perspective for what we are doing. We all need it – pastors, politicians, leaders, ordinary persons – everyone needs it at some point in one’s life. The example has been set for us by Jesus. He, too, withdrew at critical moments of his life to be with His Father, for rest and relaxation, to pray and to seek the Father’s guidance.

The writer of this diary knew what kind of spiritual guidance he wanted. He went for “rest, prayer, reflection and writing.” But he wanted a particular kind of guidance. He wanted “Benedictine guidance” – a particular kind of spirituality in a Benedictine monastic community.

Now, let me explain what I mean by “spirituality” so as to provide the background for the writer’s spiritual experience and the focus of this review. Spirituality is a Catholic word used in the 11th century to replace the older words of piety, devotion, godliness, holiness and the devout life. In recent times, it has taken on a wide range of meanings, from the religious to the secular. I am dealing here with Christian spirituality. It refers to a person’s sense of identity in relation to other people and that which is concerned with ultimate reality. Rooted in a spiritual identity are a person’s fundamental values, moral commitments and ability to engage in ethical reasoning. So spirituality is a discipline – something we do which expresses itself in a person’s ability to love, to trust and care for others. There are different strands/streams of spirituality which have come down to us through separate church traditions, but these are out of the scope of this book review. (For further reading, see Rev. Peter Neilson’s “Christian Spirituality: Changes in the Inner Landscape” in “The Expository Times”, vol.117, April 2006, pp. 277-281 or Roy W. Fairchild’s “Issues in Contemporary Spirituality: The Upsurge of Spiritual Movements” in “The Princeton Seminary Bulletin”, vol. VIII, 1987, pp. 3 – 16)

The Order of St. Benedict, which can be traced to somewhere around the year 529, practises a spirituality which is based on the Rule of the Catholic Monk, St. Benedict. The Order is structured around the values of obedience, stability, prayer, work, worship and fellowship, silence and humility, among others. In Methodist circles, these values/virtues are termed “Means of Grace.” Now, let us see how some of these virtues/values play out in the Diary under review and how they impacted the life of the writer during his ten (10) days under Benedictine Guidance.

To read the entire review please visit the Books page at www.ralphegonsalves.org