Jul 22, 2023

Book Review: Domestic Monastery

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by Katie Rapp

I love reading. It is honestly one of my favorite things to do. It seems like I am constantly adding the pile of books on my nightstand, which drives my husband crazy. But they don’t just sit there collecting dust, I actually read them and then pass them on to someone else. 


I usually find my reading material through listening to podcasts. Often there are book authors on to talk about their latest project but they also tend to suggest books they are reading. So I jot down the book titles that interest me so I can find them at the library or order them. 


One book that was recommended on the She Reads Truth Podcast by John Mark Comer was “Domestic Monastery” by Ronald Rolheiser. This book is small but mighty and really challenged the way I viewed my daily life as a wife and mother. Coming in at less than 100 pages this is not a long read but you may want to read it multiple times. 


I have read through “Domestic Monastery” twice so far and plan to read through it again once my nightstand pile dwindles. 

Domestic Monastery Overview

The title of this book may seem a little bit confusing. I mean what could be more different than a home full of children and a monastery? But don’t let the title stop you from reading this treasure. One thing that this book points out is that a monastery is simply a place that is set apart. Set apart from the world. A place where those living there learn and focus on how their powerlessness brings blessings. 


Time is also something that they are powerless to control. Time is God’s not ours. And while monks sequester themselves to learn these principles the author of “Domestic Monastery” challenges us to think of our domestic lives as parents, employees, and spouses as a type of monastery. 


Through clear and concise writing, examples, scriptures, and some understated humor, Ronald Rolheiser shows us that our lives can be just as set apart, full of blessings, and surrendered to the Lord as the lives of monks. 


Even though this book is short it is packed full of wisdom, truth, and concepts to challenge how you view your daily life, prayer, relationships, and monastic life. I could write pages and pages of quotes and lessons I gleaned from this tiny book but we just don’t have time for that. So I’m going to hit the high points and HIGHLY suggest you read this book. 

Best Parts and Quotes

I am really tempted to just fill this whole post with quotes from this book. But I really want you to read this book so I’m not going to do that. One of the first things that struck me in this book is found in the first chapter.


The author doesn’t take time to warm up or make long introductions. He just dives right into the material. Which as a mother of five kids, I appreciate it. While I love reading I don’t always have time to read a long introduction and what for several chapters for the author to get to the point. 


This makes the book great for those who maybe are less fond of reading. It is a quick and easy read but you will learn so much from it. 


During the first chapter, Rolheiser introduces Carlo Caretto. He spent decades secluded in the Shara desert to focus on prayer and becoming more selfless. It is said that when he came back he made a discovery while visiting his mother. 


“He felt that his mother, who spent nearly thirty years raising children, was much more contemplative than he was, and less selfish.” After this Rolheiser makes the assertion that while monasteries provide a desert for reflection there are other jobs and life situations that also offer opportunities for contemplation and withdrawal from the world for a time. 


Parenthood is one of those opportunities. He says that “The mother who stays home with small children experiences a very real withdrawal from the world. Her existence is certainly monastic.”


He goes on to talk about how her time is not her own and that she is almost forced to mature. The needs of others are typically put above her own as well. 


In monasteries, monks learn that time is not their own, but God’s. They have to follow the monastic bell and stop what they are doing to go to the next task. To me, that sounds just like parenthood. 


When the baby needs to eat, everything else waits. When a diaper needs to be changed, everything stops, and the diaper gets changed. When your older child has practice, homework, or a project you have to stop and help them or drive them. When there is an emotional need you have to meet it when it happens. 


Parenthood comes complete with its own monastic bells. But that isn’t the only thing we can learn from the monastic life. 


We like to use the phrase “stay in your lane.” Meaning, take care of your business. Do your job, raise your family, and do what God has for you to do. 


Monks have a similar saying “Go to your cell, and your cell will teach you everything you need to know.” They go on to say that “Every time you leave your cell you come back less a person.”


But what does that mean and how do we apply it to our domestic family lives? The author explains this clearly in the book. 


“There’s rich spirituality in these principles: stay inside your commitments, be faithful, your place of work is a seminary, your work is a sacrament, your family is a monastery, your home is a sanctuary. Stay inside them, don’t betray them, learn what they are teaching you without constantly looking for life elsewhere and without constantly believing that God is elsewhere.”


That is probably my favorite quote from this entire, treasure-filled book. We tend to want to look for God everywhere but where we are. We become dissatisfied with our lives and want something different. Especially when we are in the trenches of motherhood. 


This tiny, travel-sized book also addressed prayer as that is essential to the monastic life. This is something, as a busy mom who also works, that can be a struggle. Sometimes I get caught up in the idea of prayer needing to be long, emotional, and big every time. 


Monks seem to have the key to this. “Monks sustain themselves in prayer not through feeling, variety, or creativity, but through ritual, rhythm, and routine.” He goes on to say that monastic prayer is exceedingly simple and typically has an expected duration.  They treat prayer like eating. 


They say that there is only one non-negotiable when it comes to prayer.  You just need to show up regularly. Put the ups and downs of our emotions away and show up to talk to God. This is freeing for parents. Life can be unpredictable so hours in prayer at a time often can’t happen but when when we just choose to show up, it can be life-changing. 

Final Thoughts

You can probably tell from the rest of this review what I am going to say. Go buy the book!  It is short, simple, and full of truth as well as wisdom. You may not agree with everything in this book but that’s okay. Read it, glean what you feel God has for you in it, and leave the rest. 

Looking for a community or someone to grab coffee with who is in a similar life season? We’d love to connect with you and get to know you better! Below you will find a few people that can’t wait to meet you, shoot us an email so we can make a plan!

Tyler OJ Campus

Teresa Ator: teresaa@gcc.org

Bethanie Tayler: bethaniet@gcc.org

Tyler UB Campus

Max Heller: maxh@gcc.org

Chrisleigh Heller: chrisleighh@gcc.org

Lindale Campus

Molly Pontius: mollyp@gcc.org

Debra Kirby: debra@gcc.org