Originally written in Latin, my version was translated in 1900. It is supposedly one of the most widely read spiritual books, second only to the Bible. Of course, books that have been around for six hundred years have quite a head-start on anything written in the last century.
I confess that, knowing nothing of this book or the author, I was extremely intimidated at the thought of reading it. It is one of three books in a nice, leather-bound volume that Bill gave me for Christmas. All three are books I intended to read at some point in my life. I took one look and decided to save it for Lent when suffering is expected.
Bracing for the headache that was sure to come, I began on Ash Wednesday. Surprisingly, it is easily digested. The chapters are fairly short, and it reads much like the book of Proverbs. Because of the hundred year old translation, there are plenty of “thou”s and “didst”s and some archaic spellings like “contemn” instead of “condemn.” But the original Latin must have been so plainly written, that the more flowery style of prose I’ve noted in many “great” works of literature is absent here.
Although written for those with a religious vocation, many of the recommendations for how to live life are applicable to the lay person’s life, even six centuries later. No, perhaps the lay person can not withdraw from human interaction to the extent that a cloistered nun can, but the exhortation to minimize negative contact with others is a valid one: it is one thing to spend time chatting with other moms about recipes, child-rearing tips and good shopping deals and quite another to spend the time complaining about your husband, gossiping about the neighbors and criticizing the upbringing of the other children on the tot lot.
If you are looking for a five-minute spiritual meditation for Lent or any time, I have to recommend this as a bedside companion. One caveat: if you were to buy a copy, I would suggest vetting the edition. My volume, by a secular publisher, has an annoying introduction focusing on this book’s role in the Protestant Reformation (a hundred years later) and barely indicating it’s ties to Catholicism – especially not to modern Catholicism (as though, had a Kempis lived a century later, he would have been right there next to Martin Luther nailing those 95 complaints to the church door).