Cover image for Teaching the dead bird to sing : living the hermit life without and within
Teaching the dead bird to sing : living the hermit life without and within
Jones, W. Paul (William Paul)
Publication Information:
Brewster, Mass. : Paraclete Press, [2002]

Physical Description:
xii, 224 pages ; 21 cm
Pilgrimage toward the desert's edge -- The desert in retrospect -- Preparing to reenter the desert -- Into the silence -- Presence of the absent God -- Closure, with anticipation.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
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Item Holds
BX4705.J674 A3 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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The author shares his unique spiritual journey, which led him from a successful teaching career at Princeton and Yale to a reclusive life in a Trappist monastery in the Ozark Hills. Original.

Reviews 1

Publisher's Weekly Review

After first encountering a Trappist monastery in 1971, Jones kept returning, finally taking monastic vows in 1992, becoming a full-time hermit in 1993, and being ordained a Catholic priest in 1996. In this book he summarizes the stunning arc of his life, which includes an impoverished childhood, marriage and five children, and work as an activist and Protestant theologian. These facts, however, serve only as a backdrop for the story of his first difficult but profoundly cathartic months as a hermit in the Ozarks in 1986. After preparing at a monastery for his initial ten-day stint in his hermitage, Jones failed horribly in the metaphorical "desert" created by his solitude. His attempts to follow the monastic schedule by himself seemed absurd and he quickly abandoned them. This disastrous maiden voyage will resonate with all extroverts who have tried and failed at aloneness and contemplation. Happily, Jones was able to return to the hermitage one he built himself with lumber and nails from condemned buildings and face the many demons that had tormented him throughout his life. In the process, he experienced God, and happiness, for the first time. This book consists largely of journal entries that Jones shares now "because I have been persuaded of how many of you out there are caught in the same backwashes and dead-ends that have laced my own life." This humble, helpful tone permeates the book and is a gift to all of Jones's fellow spiritual pilgrims. (Sept.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved



I once lived in a third-floor apartment in the inner city, within an easy roar of the interstate. Shortly after dawn one morning, I heard a scratching outside my window. It was a mourning dove inspecting the window ledge for immediate occupancy, with infants allowed. She permitted my discreet voyeurism, and soon her venture into motherhood became a centering point for my days. The ledge, having met her specifications, became a foundation sufficient for one nest with one egg. My grand-bird-daughter was born unceremoniously one morning. I was unprepared for the responsibilities. This city is notorious for early springs that coax the flowering trees into full array, only to be ravaged in midcareer by freezing rain. We were one postnatal week into such a spring when the radio threatened "plunging temperatures." I spent a restless night-me in my warm bed on one side of the window, and my Madonna-bird-friend in the freezing rain on the other. I awoke with delight to her cooing. All was well. With a smile, I peeped around the window blind and peered into the dawn light. In the corner of the windowsill, she had propped upright her small infant-bird-frozen. With patient repetition, she was trying to teach the dead bird to sing. Not long afterward, I applied for a nine-month leave from my seminary teaching. For reasons that I am still attempting to discern, I felt driven to enter my own frozen springtime. I would become a hermit for a time. I would perch on some lonely sill, with only myself for companionship. I would be patient this time. I would not fly. Then, perhaps, I could be discovered by One capable of teaching me to sing an untimely song in an unlikely place. Excerpted from Teaching the Dead Bird to Sing by W. PAUL JONES Copyright © 2002 by W. Paul Jones Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.