For those of you who live within 30-40 miles of Erie you will want to know about a special evening at the Erie Book Store on East 13th Street--Wednesday, October 29: 5:00-7:00 pm. That night the Erie Book Store and Benetvision will sponsor a reading and book signing by Sisters Mary Lou Kownacki and Joan Chittister. Each of them will share favorite excerpts from their latest books. Sister Mary Lou--A Monk in the Inner City and Sister Joan--The Gift of Years.
Here is a recent review of Mary Lou's book from the Erie Times News.
"I've discovered there are many bullies on the block, many who take advantage of the weak and powerless," writes Sister Mary Lou Kownacki in her new book of personal essays, A Monk in the Inner City: The ABCs of a Spiritual Journey (Orbis Books, $16).
"With knees shaking, I've tried to stand up to the bullies in Vietnam, El Salvador, Iraq, Haiti and the United States. But instead of using fists, I've confronted with prayer, silent vigils, demonstrations, advocacy and civil disobedience."
Kownacki, a Benedictine sister in Erie, is well known for her charity work at the Emmaus Soup Kitchen and Neighborhood Art House. Her brand of monasticism, though contemplative, is hardly a cloistered retreat from the world.
"To bring passion back to our lives we must live on the edge, the margin, among the poor, in vulnerable and volatile places, steeping our days in prayer and forgiving love. A passionate Christian life is about giving our lives for something greater than ourselves."
Kownacki is Catholic, but her role models come from every school of religious thought. One of her primary spiritual heroes is the Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh, whom she interviewed at a Vietnamese refugee camp in the 1970s.
"Here was a man who had every right to be agitated, preoccupied ... his life was a horror-movie serial. Daily he received anguished letters from friends telling of imprisonment, hunger, illness and death. Yet never had I met a more peaceful person."
Kownacki's biggest influence is the Trappist monk Thomas Merton, who was forced to write about peace and civil rights in the 1960s under a pseudonym because his superiors told him "it was not a monastic thing to do."
Thanks to Merton and his followers, the definition of what constitutes monastic activity has changed greatly over the years. No longer content to hide away in abbeys baking bread and brewing ales, many of today's monastic communities have taken an active role in peace and protest movements.
In A Monk in the Inner City, Kownacki writes of an embarrassing moment during her incarceration in a Washington, D.C., jail for demonstrating against nuclear proliferation.
"None of us wants to admit that we mind going to the toilet in front of strangers. It seems such a trivial thing, so incongruent with a 'heroic' stand against the arms race. I mean, it is so bourgeois, so 'nunish' -- but, oh, so real."
A Monk in the Inner City isn't a self-righteous creed by an egocentric crusader. It's an honest book by a woman struggling with self-doubt to live a useful and committed life.
By Dan Morey
Erie Times News