BROTHER Ramon SSF was one of the most well-known of Anglican Franciscans, not least because of his 20-or-so books. This volume gives short extracts from those writings and some letters, which illustrate his thoughtful and direct musings on prayer. These are preceded by a succinct narrative of his life. For those who have not come across Ramon before, this will serve as an excellent introduction, while for those who already know of him, this is a helpful reminder of his continued relevance.
Ramon’s journey from his Welsh upbringing through to his death in 2000 at Glasshampton Monastery is told movingly. There are a few historical inaccuracies, as on page 39: Anglican religious life was revived in the 1840s, not the 1880s; Hilfield Friary was founded by Giles, not Douglas; SSF went to Cambridge in 1939, not the 1960s. Yet these small slips do not undermine the power of the personal narrative of Ramon’s sense of God, which led him from Baptist ministry to Anglican Franciscanism, and then his quest for the solitary life.
Ramon made the hermit life powerful in its witness and yet not something esoteric or exclusive. His way was about finding stillness, and not heroically conquering techniques of prayer. Indeed, the effectiveness of his quest for God was communicated precisely because his solitary life was gentle at the edges and accessible. He was disciplined, but not extreme, visiting his family each year, and being open to a few visitors. He loved conversation on the occasions when it was available.
So, he had not become a hermit to escape people, but to seek God. In that way, he spoke to many who may not follow his solitary life in general, but, encouraged by his writings, are unafraid to seek times of solitude; for, in those moments, they, like Ramon, can come closer to the God who sustains them.
Dr Petà Dunstan is a Fellow of St Edmund’s College, Cambridge.
A Franciscan Way of Life: Brother Ramon’s quest for holiness
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