Monday, March 31, 2008

BOOK REVIEW: Mysteries of Silence

By Christopher Lewis
Anaphora Press, 2007

Reviewed by Stephen Ullstrom

In his first collection of poetry, it is soon obvious that Christopher Lewis knows his garden. And that he intimately knows such things as the birds that fly into his garden, and the growing of good, thriving, crops. He knows the names of flowers that I have never heard of, and he understands something of the mysteries of pruning and of seeds growing. We even learn that Lewis writes in a shed that is in the midst of his garden, and that at times he struggles between desiring to write and desiring to nurture his plants. This is the joyous Lewis that we see as he lovingly describes nature and finds within it a touch of paradise. But he is never sentimental, and the serious side of Lewis emerges when he writes about scorching deserts and the wearying heat of summer. This is the side that is concerned with prayer, and with attaining silence before God. And Lewis does not shy away from this either, as seen when he tells himself, and us, to “not delude yourself that you’ve met the silence. / You have not touched even the hem of it’s garment.” In addition to Lewis’s emphasis on nature, and as someone who feasts on biographies, I also thoroughly enjoyed Lewis’ exploration of the lives of various saints. He used these lives to illustrate prayer in diverse circumstances, and to encourage us in our struggles while also pointing out that we have so far to go before reaching those heights.

In addition to the poems, Lewis also provides some notes explaining the reasons for writing a few of his poems, and explaining some of the allusions he makes to various saints and books. These were very helpful in understanding some of the more obscure allusions he made, and they offered interesting insight into how Lewis works as a poet. My only disappointment was that he didn’t tell us more.

Mysteries of Silence provides keen and honest insights about nature, beauty, and our struggles with the Orthodox spiritual life. As the first publication of Anaphora Press, which has dedicated itself to publishing excellence in literature, Mysteries of Silence has set the bar very high indeed. And as the first book published by Christopher Lewis, I look forward to savoring whatever else he chooses to share with us.

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