Sunday, February 6, 2011


Last Tuesday morning (Feb. 2, 2011) I was on my way down to church at 5:00; as I walked past our mailboxes I noticed a package the size of a shoebox with my name on it. The mailing label boasted the familiar logo “Church Publishing Inc.” I knew right away what it must contain: ten complimentary copies of my new book, Walking in Valleys of Darkness, right on schedule at “the beginning of February.” Although this would be the sixth time that I’d opened a package to get a first look at a book I’d written, the feeling of excitement was still there as I looked around for a knife to cut the tape on the package.


In my November 18, 2010 post I described my new book, entitled Walking in Valleys of Darkness: A Benedictine Journey Through Troubled Times. People sometimes ask me “How long did it take you to write the book?” I never know quite what to say. In the case of Walking in Valleys of Darkness the answer would undoubtedly startle a lot of folks: eleven and a half years.

Ever since starting to study biblical Greek in college at Saint John’s in Minnesota I’ve been intrigued with the nuances and new angles that I found when reading the New Testament in the original language. I have often based homilies on various insights or plays on words that are invisible to someone not looking at the Greek. These homilies have always received positive feedback from various people including those harshest of all critics, the men I live with. So I’ve long wanted to share those insights with others by writing a book.


Whenever I write a book I keep a log of my ideas in order to keep track of how my thoughts and approaches change over time. So In August of 1999, after I’d sent the manuscript of Downtown Monks to the publisher, I started a new log entitled “Book III.” I had two possibilities for a third book (book number one was A Saint on Every Corner, 1999): one possibility was to investigate the concepts of “mastery” and “intimacy” that I’d been reflecting on at some length, while the other was to write a book about the spiritual treasures that lay hidden behind so many Greek New Testament words. After some thought I decided to set to work on the latter.

Being neither a scripture scholar nor a linguist, I put in hours and hours with my Greek lexicon and various scripture commentaries writing a manuscript that gave a straightforward exposition of about thirty of my favorite words.

But a few months later in March of 2000 I wrote the following in my book log: “Reading the just-published Downtown Monks book convinces me that this Greek Book is a bad idea. My recent efforts at trying to tweak it only serve to show that the book isn’t a good idea for me. … as of today I’m no longer considering the Greek book for publication.” I meant it, too – at the time.

And so I then set to work on writing what was to become Street Wisdom, the finished manuscript of which I sent to Twenty-Third Publications two-and-a-half years later.


But the same day on which I mailed that manuscript, the cat came back: I re-opened my “Greek Book log” and picked up where I’d left off 30 months earlier. I’d been thinking about this book again during the several preceding months and had kept mulling over various new approaches. I then discovered that I no longer had the Word file containing all of the research I’d done earlier and had to start over again using hard copies of the lost files.On and off over the next year I experimented with various approaches, realizing that the book would probably have to be written with an emphasis on the practical implications of the words for Christian living. By early 2005 I had come up with a a collection of homily-like reflections on New Testament words, and I sent the manuscript to Liturgical Press. They returned it with the kind comment that it was beautifully written, but nobody would buy such a book. At this point, however, I was completely convinced that the ideas in the book (i.e. the insights coming from the Greek words) were definitely worth publishing; I just needed to find the right vehicle.

I then re-wrote the manuscript with a more autobiographical approach and mailed it off to Paulist Press in the spring of 2005. I received a similar rejection letter from them: nicely written but nobody will publish it because the Greek words will scare people off. So I abandoned the Greek book and turned my efforts to another project.

My first book, A Saint on Every Corner, had been out of print for a while, and I thought it deserved a better fate. So I set about getting it re-published. At the time, I had been writing book jacket blurbs for Morehouse Publications, Harrisburg Pennsylvania, and the editor there, Nancy Fitzgerald, had repeatedly said that they would be interested in looking at any material I might write. So I sent them a copy of A Saint on Every Corner with the proposal that they reprint it. I soon got a response: Nancy said that they needed a Lenten book for a year-and-a-half from then, and that they would happily publish my book if I were to re-work it into a series of Lenten meditations. I jumped at the opportunity and within a year (April 26, 2006) I emailed them the manuscript “Pilgrim Road: A Benedictine Journey Through Lent.”


Three days after I mailed the manuscript for Pilgrim Road the cat came back again: I once more found myself re-opening my Greek Book log – the book would simply not go away! So, in October 2006 I began writing a follow-up to my Lenten book: an Advent book with chapters based on the Greek words. But that darn manuscript took on a life of its own and soon began morphing out of control. As a result, by June of 2007 I officially dropped the Greek words angle and began writing a straightforward book of Advent meditations instead. Once again the Greek Book got buried.

The Advent manuscript went on to be published by Morehouse in 2008 as From Holidays to Holy Days: A Benedictine Journey Through Advent.


Can you guess what I did the moment that the completed Advent book manuscript went to the publishers? Right! The cat came back and I returned to scribbling ideas in my Greek Book log once again. This was May, 2008. I was more convinced than ever that my fellow Christians had a right to know about all those insights that still lay hidden behind the Greek of the New Testament. But when the cat came back this time I was finally starting to get things right. I wrote in the log that the book would work best if it was based on my own experiences of how I lived out and profited from the insights of the Greek words. Then half a year later I wrote (Christmas Eve, 2008) “Hey, how about this: have the reflections include the present context of our culture: financial problems, the social and moral fabric unraveling, violence, intolerance, terror. Against this backdrop look at our renewed need to trust God – a forced option at a time when one is no longer in firm control.” The book could be a sort of guide through our troubled times.

By January 2009 the book was still changing but less frequently, and always in the direction of clear, practical applications to the reader's own reality and struggles. It was at this point, I see in my log, that I got the idea of basing each chapter on some personal experience of mine. A couple of friends I spoke to about this approach encouraged me to write the book this way despite my reluctance to put myself at center stage like those people who write “tell-all” memoirs. The book kept taking shape during 2009 and into the beginning of the new year until by May, 2010 I finally had the outline of a book with completed chapters about the way two dozen Greek words had helped me get through five different periods of struggle in my life. This time it felt right.


Just at that time, I happened to be on the phone one afternoon with Morehouse Publications ordering some more copies of Pilgrim Road and From Holidays to Holy Days. When I had finished ordering, the person at the other end of the line asked, “Is there anything else I can help you with today?” On the spur of the moment I blurted out, “Yes. Could you tell me who I need to talk to about getting a manuscript published now that Nancy Fitzgerald is no longer with the company?” She answered, “That would be Frank Tedeschi. Hold on, please, and I’ll connect you.”

As you may know, when you want to get a book published you first submit a query letter to a publisher introducing yourself and your idea for a book. Then if you’re lucky you get invited to submit an outline, a table of contents and a couple of sample chapters. Then if you’re really lucky the publisher finally invites you to submit the whole thing with the idea of possibly publishing it.

Before I could collect my thoughts the phone had rung twice and I found myself talking to Frank, an extremely helpful and friendly person, about my idea for a new book with the working title A Benedictine Journey Through Troubled Times. He immediately said that it sounded very interesting and added, “Send me the manuscript.”
Knowing how the routine works, I said, “So you want me to send you a letter formally proposing this project?”
“No, send me the manuscript.”
Still unable to believe my ears I answered, “So I should send you a table of contents and a couple of sample chapters?”
“No, you’re an established author. Just send me the manuscript.”

Before I knew it the conversation was over. I hung up the phone and sat at my desk stunned. Within a week I emailed him the Word file of the manuscript. Not long afterward I signed a book contract for Walking in Valleys of Darkness: A Benedictine Journey through Troubled Times. We decided not to mention the Greek angle in the marketing material: the Greek words would all lie hidden inside the Trojan horse of the book, ready to jump out in true Greek fashion and conquer the unsuspecting reader. At long last, though, my Greek book was finally going to be published!


Standing in front of the mailboxes I used a letter opener to slit the tape on the package and slowly removed the wadded brown paper that had been used to pack the books snugly. I lifted out the top copy, held the surprisingly small volume gently in both hands and smiled. After eleven years of trial and error, of being abandoned on three separate occasions, of sometimes changing shape on a weekly basis for a month or two, here it was at last, my book of meditations on words from the Greek New Testament.

Sometimes I think that seeing your book in print for the first time has something of the feel of seeing a newborn child. This book, though, was already more than eleven years old. The feeling this time was the one you get at the end of a long journey – a complicated adventure during which you got lost several times and grew tired and may even have quit once or twice, and yet now you’re home at last and can put your feet up and relax.

Until suddenly you get this idea for a new book…


  1. I am really looking forward to reading your book. I already pre-ordered several copies through Congratulations!

    Cousin Susan

  2. I first discovered your writing through 'Pilgrim Road'...I loved the pilgrimage angle to the meditationsand, I freely admit, read it much faster than the 40 allotted days! Since then I've read all the other books, having recently managed to import an affordable copy of 'Downtown Monks' from the States. The Benedictine rule of 'stability' shows itself in the depth of insight of your community, yet your meditations are always down to earth and encouraging.

    As one who delights in carefully sharing the nuances of NT Greek when praeching in a protestant free church setting I am fascinated to have heard the story of the 'journey' of this book. The subject matter had already made this an intriguing read; now the Greek angle has increased my desire to own a copy, as soon as it becomes available in the UK. Thanks.