My research focuses on the varied ways in which the intentional and formational practice of reading interacts with those of meditation and contemplation in the medieval west, particularly in monastic culture. More particularly, I ask how literary texts throughout the medieval period (and skirting into early modernity) conceptualize the human person in terms of such cognitive and affective practices, how these texts promote particular hermeneutic perspectives, and how reading practices mediate these perspectives.
My first four peer-reviewed essays explore this broad trajectory in particular ways, one each considering the definition of the human person in Old English body-and-soul texts; the role of the discipline of meditative, ruminative reading within early medieval textual communities; the edificatory role of reading for the individual Christian in the context of contemplative anthropology in Anglo-Saxon England; and the centrality of monastic hermeneutics and voice for John Lydgate’s poetic project.
My latest scholarly book is an edition of the poems and shorter prose of the seventeenth-century Benedictine, Dame Gertrude More. A great-great-granddaughter of Saint Thomas More, she left home at 17 to co-found the Abbey of Our Lady of Comfort in what is today Cambrai, France. Dame Gertrude More was a strong, talkative, and likable woman who, under the tutelage of Dom Augustine Baker, also became a great lover of contemplation. She wrote poems, several shorter prose works, and a longer work sometimes called her “Confessions,” all of which were published in 1658, years after her early death. This book made her one of the earliest women published in the English language. Her works celebrate and describe the nature of contemplation and divine union. With a plain style that was unconcerned with technicalities and intellectual hair-splitting, Dame Gertrude’s teachings on prayer and contemplation are beautiful testaments to the value of pursuing, as she puts it, “the one thing necessary” (experiential intimacy between the soul and its Maker). She, Dom Augustine Baker, and the community at Cambrai more generally were instrumental in passing on the ancient and medieval teachings on contemplation in the Christian west, and I am delighted to make Dame Gertrude’s works more readily accessible for those interested in the history of monasticism, contemplation, and early English literature.
Building upon the interaction of meditative or contemplative practice and hermeneutics, my primary current research concern is a monograph focused on the interaction between prayer and meditative intentionality within a sub-genre of Old English devotional poetry I call “meditative verse prayers.” These poems appear in a variety of Anglo-Saxon manuscripts from the tenth and eleventh centuries and have generally been neglected by modern scholarship. However, I argue that these meditative verse prayers, which participate in a particularly crucial cultural practice in early medieval Christianity—prayer—served an important purpose as a tool for self-fashioning. The Old English meditative verse prayers are sites for the formation of a virtual poetic dialogue, a dialogue that described and shaped various aspects of the Christian’s life and relationship to self, world (earth and heaven), and deity.
My first book project was released by Cistercian Publications in December 2017. My translation of St. Æthelwold of Winchester’s Old English version of the Latin Rule of St. Benedict is the text’s first Modern English translation, and the work on sources that I incorporate into the book’s notes and introduction is an original contribution to the field of Old English studies. My goals for this project are three-fold: 1) to make this earliest vernacularization of the Rule—and its creative transformation of the original text—more readily available to medievalists and other interested parties, 2) to present a portrait of Æthelwold’s desires for the tenth-century Benedictine reform’s new monks and nuns through the sources he used and changes he made to Benedict’s text, so offering greater insight into Æthelwold as a bishop, abbot, translator, and person than has hitherto been possible, and 3) to provide students of Old English poetry with an often-neglected but central witness to the cultural context of this remarkable corpus of texts.
Dame Gertrude More. Poems and Counsels on Prayer and Contemplation. Leominster, Herefordshire: Gracewing Ltd., 2020.
St. Æthelwold’s Old English Translation of the Rule of St. Benedict and Related Texts. Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian Publications, 2017.
First translation into modern English, critical introduction, and appendices (including alternate chapters, Æthelwold’s account of the Anglo-Saxon Benedictine Reform called “An Account of Edgar’s Establishment of Monasteries,” and Ælfric of Eynsham’s “Life of St. Benedict”).
“De modo meditandi vel contemplandi: A Pedagogical Treatise for Novices from Bury St. Edmunds.” Journal of Medieval Religious Cultures 45.2 (2019): 139-82.
“‘Tenlvmyne’ the Laetabundus: John Lydgate as Benedictine Poet.” Journal of English and Germanic Philology 115.3 (2016): 370-93.
“Dualism in Old English Literature: The Body-and-Soul Theme and Vercelli Homily IV.” Studies in Philology 112.3 (2015): 453-68.
“Homo Contemplans: The Order of the World, Gregorian Contemplative Anthropology, and Old English Poetics.” Viator 46.1 (2015): 1-20.
“Lectio Divina and Cynewulf’s Epilogues: The Poet in Community.” American Benedictine Review 65.3 (2014): 271-90.