Teaching the Dead Bird to Sing: Living the Hermit Life Without and Within
W. Paul Jones
Paraclete, 228 pages, $16.95

W. Paul Jones began his journey as a Protestant in the poverty of Appalachia, then earned degrees from Yale, taught at Princeton, became a Methodist minister, served as a chaplain for the Black Panthers, and was recently ordained as a Catholic priest.

"It has been a long pilgrimage," Jones writes, "strange and wild." Jones admits he came to the unhappy realization along the way that he was a "functional atheist." The hope of resolving his spiritual identity led him to a nine-month visit to an Ozarks monastery in the mid-1980s, which is the basis of this book.

Determined to have it out with God, he shares his deepest longing: "I desperately want to believe. … that God is the rightful name for the cause of my having been burned with a brand-shaped WHY." A self-confessed addict to "doing" and an extrovert who didn't fit the model of spiritual solitude, Jones tells how he learned to make contemplation the most urgent work he does.

Thomas Merton's influence is felt in his style: a mix of personal vulnerability, nature imagery, and the desire for authenticity. Any believer who has wrestled with busyness, discouragement, and doubt will find solace and inspiration in his honest musings.

Cindy Crosby is a frequent contributor to Publishers Weekly.

Related Elsewhere

Teaching the Dead Bird To Sing is available at Christianbook.com.

Paraclete Press's website has brief information on the book and W. Paul Jones.

For more book reviews, see Christianity Today's archives.

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