This is the latest offering from Fr. John-Francis Friendship and is concerned to reveal the insights offered by the Religious Life to the church and world of today. Present since the beginning of Christianity, and in the Anglican Communion for almost 200 years, the Life is frequently overlooked or considered irrelevant, yet has helped mould both individual well-being and the shape and essence of the Christian world - eastern and western.
Whilst using stories concerning various communities its primary intention is not to promote the Life (although it will help those who may be considering their call) but to explore what Religious Life can teach us about the essence of Christianity - and being human. Chapters include: Seeking God and the wisdom of the Desert tradition; The Monastic Way and Contemplative Living; For the Sake of the Kingdom, offering insights into the way the Life responded to growing social needs; Habits and Hearts, looking at the way we express what lies most deeply within us; Priests and Prophets, reflecting on how the Life might inform both the ordained and those seeking to live prophetically, and The Hidden Monk, exploring the way the ‘monk’ (or nun) lies in the depths of all. The Foreword is by the Bishop of Manchester TSSF who writes:
‘Perhaps this book should be required reading for all presenting themselves to their Vocations Team or priest, who feel God’s call must, because this is the only model they have ever seen, mean becoming a ‘vicar’. In our pluriform age, consideration of Religious Life should be required of those who seek to help people find their path among today’s array of options. Above all this is a book for anyprepared to acknowledge that what they are seeking is not merely to better themselves, who acknowledge that the small voice from within will be quietened neither by enthusiastic activity nor internal contemplation, but by recognising that this call comes from beyond. The one we are seeking is God, and we seek because God has already sought us.’
What others say of this book:
Thrilled to get my copy! It really has set my mind in thinking and has allowed me to recognise I am following the correct path (for now). The book is really a fascinating insight into religious orders and those religious. It is full of quotes by way of illustration of people that have trod that road for years. The Foreword is a wonderful reflection (the Bishop of Manchester: anyone reading just that will buy it!!!!!) of the value not only of the book itself but that whisper, that call that makes us drop everything.
Emptying the self of ambition and the grasping nature of the world into consecrated life of humility, love and joy. John's experience clearly shines through on each page. There is not a dull page, just so much to absorb and think about and sections which just come alive and stay with you as friends almost by osmosis. Surely that's how any book should be valued? It's a book of the heart FOR the heart and I love it so!
At a time when so many are looking for ways to live a meaningful and authentic Christian life, this is a timely book. Those who are simply interested in finding ways to incorporate ancient monastic wisdom into their daily lives will find John-Francis’ reflections thought provoking. Those who might consider a monastic vocation for themselves, will find the same questions an aid to their discernment.
Br. James Koester SSJE, Superior, Society of Saint John the Evangelist
John-Francis was my Novice Guardian when I first joined the Society of St. Francis. I learned a lot from him then, and I have learned more since reading this book. He speaks of the Religious Life with great affection and thanksgiving. It has encouraged me to go back to the roots of my vocation, to 're-plant' myself in the love of Christ. May this book inspire many others and raise up vocations to the religious life and all pathways to God.
Br. Nicholas Alan SSF, Guardian, Glasshampton Monastery
This beautiful and accessible book introduces the treasures of the Religious Life through the lens of John-Francis’ varied experience and Anglican practise. Much more than a personal spiritual reflection, the breadth of his encounters and research mean the book is an excellent resource for those unfamiliar with the religious life and in particular how this has been expressed in the Anglican tradition. For those of us who have been exposed a little in religious life circles in the UK there is much delight in the collected quotes of so many familiar sisters and brothers. For those seekers coming afresh, encountering an unfamiliar world, John-Francis is an excellent guide.
The Rev. Simon Lewis, Dean of the Community of St. Anselm, Lambeth Palace
Over the centuries monasticism existed seamlessly alongside society, with many points of connection. That changed with the dissolution of the monasteries in England under King Henry VIII but with monasticism's re-establishment in the Church of England in the nineteenth century Christian men and women were once again able to hear God's call to enter the monastery while those who were not called could come alongside monastic communities for spiritual benefit. John-Francis Friendship has not only lived in a Franciscan community but has also drunk from monasticism's spiritual well for decades. His insights are fully monastic while also easily applicable to all Christians. This book is not only an excellent primer on monasticism but a rich treasury of monastic wisdom that will strengthen all readers in their single-minded pursuit of God.
The Rev. Dr. Greg Peters (Visiting Scholar, Von Hügel Institute , St. Edmund's College , University of Cambridge and author of ‘The Monkhood of All Believers)
To enter this book is to find oneself in another world soaked by the presence of God; it is to realise that all life, communal and individual, and indeed the natural world around, participates in a greater reality of love and there finds meaning and purpose. In a time of global pandemic, the ancient way chosen by Religious in answer to the deep question ‘What Do You Seek?’ is more relevant than ever, and I firmly predict we shall see a renaissance in vocations to the religious life in coming times. John-Francis Friendship brings all his experience and wisdom to open up the rich hinterland of the religious orders that have contributed so much to church and society in this beautifully written book which will inform and inspire in equal measure.'
The Very Rev. Dr Frances E F Ward Obl.OSB, former Dean of St Edmundsbury, and author of ‘Like There's No Tomorrow: Climate Crisis, Eco-Anxiety and God’ and other books.
Sold in bookshops or: https://canterburypress.hymnsam.co.uk/books/9781786223456/what-do-you-seek
January 7th, 2022
Dominic Walker reads a personal perspective (Link to article here):
THE title of this book, What Do You Seek?, is the question traditionally asked of a novice standing before the altar and about to make his or her vows. The subtitle, Wisdom from religious life for today’s world, explains the purpose of the book. Nevertheless, it took me by surprise, because it is not a book that focuses on the ancient monastic traditions (although they are by no means ignored), but a book that looks more closely at the consecrated life, often called the “religious life” within the Anglican tradition, and it is a very personal reflection.
Perhaps I should not have been surprised, because the author, John-Francis Friendship, is a Franciscan priest who for 25 years was a friar in the First Order and is now a member of the Third Order. He writes from a wealth of personal experience of living in community as well as nurturing others in the tradition as a guardian of novices and as a spiritual director. He reflects on the ancient monastic and mendicant traditions and how Benedictine, Cistercian, Franciscan, Augustinian, and Carmelite spiritualities have helped to shape Anglican religious communities over the past nearly 200 years.
The author draws on the wisdom of Anglican religious founders and present-day religious, besides reflecting on the courage and vision of the early founders attempting to restore the religious life in the Church of England, often opposed by bishops, but gaining admiration for their selfless and sacrificial lives in serving the poor and sick. The author also looks at the present-day growth in dispersed and mixed communities and in the solitary and hermit vocation, and he provides an appendix of communities to which he has referred.
Archbishop Robert Runcie said that when leaders of various Orthodox Churches, somewhat suspicious of Anglicanism, visited Lambeth Palace, their fears were always allayed when they saw Anglican nuns living there, because for them monasticism was the bedrock of the Church.
What do you seek? It was the question that I asked a young novice at Tymawr Convent a few weeks ago as she made her monastic profession, but it is not just a question for aspiring monks and nuns, but for all the baptised, and, as the Bishop of Manchester says in the foreword, perhaps this book should be required reading for all exploring their vocation. Being a “vicar” may be the only model with which they are familiar.
This book has been well researched, and its personal testimony witnesses to the religious life as a living tradition. It does what it sets out to do by showing the relevance of the religious life for today’s world and for all who seek to be disciples of Jesus.
The Rt Revd Dominic Walker OGS is a former Bishop of Monmouth.
What Do You Seek? Wisdom from religious life for today’s world
Canterbury Press £16.99 (978-1-78622-345-6)
Church Times Bookshop £13.60