(2012) #51 review: Clairvaux Manifesto

Clairvaux Manifesto:
A Personal Odyssey Of Spirituality At Work

by

Kirk BARTHA

320 pages

Clairvaux Manifesto

Published by Ponder Publishing in 2009

Received from the author

This book counts for the following Reading Challenge:

    

MY THOUGHTS ABOUT THIS BOOK

Rating system

This is not going to be an easy review. Some time ago, I read a review of Clairvaux Manifesto, it sounded great. I have to say I was intrigued by the word Clairvaux used in the title, so I requested the book from the author who sent it to me for free.

As we say in the blogosphere, we receive books for free for a honest review. So to be honest, this was far from being a great experience.

Judge a book, or at least THIS book, by its subtitle, not by its title.

The abbey of Clairvaux is the first Cistercian monastery founded by Saint Bernard (1090-1153)  in the Champagne region ( if you read French, you can see my classes on him.)  Although the Cistercian Order was founded before Bernard entered the monastery, his joining the first Cistercian community, in Citeaux, just South of Dijon, Burgundy, brought flocks of new recruits to the young Order and made it very quickly develop world wide.

The Cistercian Order is still present all over the world, with its 102 communities of monks and 76 communities of nuns ( 2011 statistics), the latest foundation being in Macau!

A few decades ago, first under the influence of Dom Armand Veilleux, currently abbot of Scourmont in Belgium, the Cistercian spirituality started attracting many lay people, that is, persons with no ordained ministry nor living under religious vows, who want to follow this wisdom in their everyday life of family relationship, prayer, and work.

Today, the movement of the Lay Cistercians is an international association of Christians (no, you do not need to be Roman Catholic to be part of the Lay Cistercians), with 63 communities all over the world, with 3 official languages and an international gathering every 3 years, just as the consecrated Cistercians themselves. They even have an online Lay Cistercian community, Conversi, for folks who live too far away from any Cistercian abbey and could not meet there on a regular basis.

SO, when I saw this title, and read about this book, I thought this was connected to this wonderful movement already full of great wisdom and experience gained through its few decades of existence.

I was wrong, the author is not part of this movement. No problem.

The problems I found in this book though, is that while the author does say he gets his inspiration from Saint Bernard and the Cistercian spirituality, he never really explains neither what this spirituality consists in nor how it CONCRETELY inspires his own movement. This would have been very helpful for people who have never heard about Cistercian spirituality.

Why do I highlight the word concretely? Because I found the book lacking in concrete information about Clairvaux Ventures Ltd. “Their mission is providing circles of quiet within the clamor of evil for young professionals and global change agents in various disciplines and structural models who are willing to intentionally discover, develop, and deploy their own vision, values, and protocols.” (from the blurb on the back cover)

How does this work? Who are the members? How can you join? What do they really do? What place money has in this venture? I felt for instance very uncomfortable with stories about buying huge oil contracts, etc.  What’s the connection between all these?

I also found some mistakes, related to Cistercian history. For instance:

  • p. 14: Bernard’s sister did not enter the abbey of Juilly, but of Jully.
  • p. 14: Clairvaux is in the Champagne region, not in Burgundy. It was founded on a land owned by Hugh of Troyes, count of Champagne. Maybe there’s some confusion here with another very famous, and still worth the visit, abbey founded by Bernard in Burgundy: Fontenay.
  • p.15: “The black-robed vow of stability (Benedictines) witnessed a white-robed supernova of friendship and pilgrimage (Cistercians). I will pass on the supernova image. The sentence seems to imply that Benedictines were/are stable, while Cistercians were/are a pilgrim Order. Both Orders have 3 vows: obedience, stability, and conversion of life (the other classic vows of poverty and chastity are included in that one). The Cistercians were born in1098 as a reform of the Benedictine Order, with the intention to go back to the purity of the life fostered by Saint Benedict (6th century). As their intention was that of reform, the Cistercians were not going to get rid of the Benedictine vows. Cistercians do not go usually on pilgrimage. In fact, there’s even a very beautiful famous text by Saint Bernard encouraging his monks to go on pilgrimage in their own hearts.
  • p.15: the poor Hugh of Payns (Hugues de Payns in French) would not recognize himself on this page, where he is named Hughes of Payens.  Unfortunately, “Payens” sounds like “païen”, which means pagan. Payns is actually the name of a village near Troyes, in the Champagne region. It still exists and is very proud of its famous Hugh.
  • p.16: “[Bernard] maintained friendships with Benedictine reformers like William of St. Thierry and Aelred of Rievaulx.” This is a confusing sentence. William was indeed a Benedictine monk, he was even abbot of the Benedictine abbey of Saint Thierry (still in existence near Rheims, now inhabited by nuns) – hence his name, before being admitted in a Cistercian abbey – where actually he never really made his permanent vows, but that’s another story. As for Aelred, he never was a Benedictine. He was a page at the court of King David of Scotland. And it is when he was sent on a mission by his king, that he visited the already existing Cistercian abbey of Rievaulx, and finally decided to join.

So really what is this book about? As the subtitle says, ah!, it is a personal odyssey of spirituality at work. It is basically a collection of short vignettes witnessing to the spiritual evolution of the author and of his lovely family, in the real of family life, prayer, and work. The author also included some of his poems. Each section ends with a few less personal and more general lines pertaining to “abbeys of prayer and work”, not to be understood in the usual sense of the word abbey (still today, an abbey is a monastery that is comprised of at least 12 members, and can elect its own abbot/abbess, hence the name of abbey – that’s the rule for Cistercians at least), but as this mysterious new kind of abbey.

So if you need some type of inspiration to recenter your life and connect work and prayer, you may find some ideas through the author’s personal stories. His style is not linear at all, very circular in fact, so this will provide a lovely slow read for your meditation.

I wished this aspect would have been combined with more exact historical data and clearer information about Cistercian spirituality and Clairvaux Ventures Ltd. The book actually looks to me more like a first draft. With more work, it could have made a very fine book. It is unfortunately too often the case with self-published books or semi self-published books, as this one.

WHAT IS IT ABOUT

Surprisingly, the author’s website does not have any real synopsis of the book. Here is the blurb accompanying a free preview of the book:

Quoting page 175, “…discover 10,000 master cadets internationally; develop them locally; deploy them globally. These master cadets are already leaders of tens, hundreds, thousands, and tens of thousands themselves. It’s about the unprecedented solidarity of those who are called to pray and release these master cadets here in Canada and around the world. It’s about uniting many innovative companies, NGO’s, and other organizations that are willing to work together in the building of abbeys of prayer and work, and cities of refuge. Gideon led 300. It’s never about numbers. But it is about awakening an armada!

To be honest, I don’t speak the same coded and cipher-filled language anymore. I won’t tolerate overbearing agendas. I am not the least bit comfortable within certain structures. I lost my religion and don’t want it back—ever again. I don’t need a throne or a pulpit. I gave up all the semblances of status quo and positional privilege. I have never had a religious experience with my position or business card.”


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kirk Bartha

Kirk Bartha BRE Tyndale, MCS Regent, Arrow Leadership, former VP of Woodthorpe Petroleum, past partner in Benevolent Creative Group, and one of Clairvaux Group ~ providing circles of quiet within the clamor of evil (Ps 94:12 MSG) for young professionals and global change agents in various disciplines and structural models who are willing to intentionally discover, develop, and deploy their own visions, values, and protocols.

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HAVE YOU READ THIS BOOK YET?
DO YOU FEEL LIKE READING THIS BOOK?
HOW DO YOU PERSONALLY INTEGRATE SPIRITUALITY
IN YOUR EVERYDAY LIFE?
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