Booknote: Short Trip to the Edge  

Posted by Joe Rawls

Short Trip to the Edge: where earth meets heaven--a pilgrimage. By Scott Cairns. HarperSanFrancisco, 2007.

The author teaches creative writing at the University of Missouri-Columbia. He's a convert to the Greek Orthodox church by way of the Presbyterians and Episcopalians--a lot of that is going on these days. The book relates three pilgrimages he made to Mt. Athos during the course of a sabattical year.

Cairns has been practising the Jesus Prayer for ten years or so but has gotten to the point where he feels like he is making no progress at all. He thinks that if he can find a spiritual father--a spiritual director, only more so--at one of the Athonite monasteries, he can give his spiritual life a good jump-start. This is the basic plot of the book, which is loaded with colorful descriptions of monastic life, even more colorful characters, and beautiful renderings of the rugged Mt. Athos landscape.

Cairns visits several monasteries and has talks with a number of monks, one of which I quote from in my post on the Jesus Prayer. In the end, he doesn't find one single spiritual father, but rather realizes that he has many. His spiritual practice is indeed deepened, though not in the spectacular way he may have been seeking at the outset.

His 14 year-old son accompanies him on the last pilgrimage and there are several genuinely touching scenes of father and son at all-night vigils, hiking along the trails between monasteries, and the like. Quality time, indeed.

On the more negative side, there are a few incidents of the occasionally rough treatment of guests to which visitors to Mt.Athos are sometimes subjected. Once he has to spend the night in an old storeroom where non-Orthodox guests are consigned. When the guestmaster finds out he's only a convert to Orthodoxy, apparently that means he's not Orthodox enough. On another occasion, a guest (who doesn't quite have it all together) is receiving communion during a Liturgy when he suddenly flails his arms about and spills some of the consecrated wine on his shirt and on the floor as well. The monks take him aside and make him take off his shirt, nwhich is then burned. Another monk then pours a flammable liquid over the wine spilled on the floor and sets it on fire. We read in the Rule of Benedict that all guests are to be recieved as Christ. For some eastern monks, apparently, some guests are to be received as Christ was by Pilate.

This entry was posted on Thursday, May 24, 2007 at Thursday, May 24, 2007 . You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments feed .


Sad. Have you red the Kelliotes Letter? You may read it here:

October 11, 2007 at 12:38 AM

I'm sorry for replying to a very old post, but there's a reason for burning the spilt Eucharist. The canons/rubrics state that if the Eucharist spills onto clothing (even *vestments*, which aren't cheap) the clothes MUST be burned.

Also during one Communion, the priest dropped a crumb on the solea. He had someone else hold the chalice while he got down on all fours to lap up the spilled crumb.

July 1, 2011 at 9:45 PM

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