Friday, August 2, 2013

Readin': The Ear of The Heart

I met Mother Dolores Hart, OSB for the first time almost 40 years ago (1975). I've had conversations with her and been in her remarkable presence many times over the years. She does, indeed, have the most remarkable blue-eyed gaze; one that can be both startling and comforting in its perception and acceptance. Her memoir with Richard DeNeut, The Ear of The Heart, proved to me, once again, how little we really know about any person's journey, interior and exterior, even if we have been acquainted with them for a very long time.

The broad outlines of Mother Dolores' story are known by many. In the mainstream media she is "the aspiring actress who left a successful career and the world for a cloistered nunnery". She has been the subject of countless articles in magazines and newspapers over the years and was the subject of an Oscar-nominated HBO documentary, God is the Bigger Elvis. As a young actress in her first major role, she gave Elvis his first on-screen kiss. She worked on stage and screen with many of the biggest 'names' in Hollywood.

The Ear of The Heart is a remarkable book in many ways. It is a truly collaborative effort between the two authors; the typography used makes clear which parts are written by Mother Dolores and which by Richard. In addition, many of the stories provoke conversation between the two authors which are rendered faithfully in the text. So what you end up with is both a story about times past and a conversation held in the present about those stories.

Mother Dolores shares her own history and that of the family she was born into, starting with a brief history of her parents and grandparents. It is a turbulent story; a father who concentrated more on his career and a mother that struggled with alcohol all her life. At age 10 Dolores converted to Catholicism because, even then, she was listening to God's voice and knew that it was the correct path for her. When she would make visits to the church attached to the Catholic school she went to, she experienced a peaceful acceptance she had not yet known in her young life. Throughout her life she continued to listen to that inner voice and respond to its promptings. That's where the title of the book functions on so many levels. She had many people advising her and could have gone in many different directions, but she listened to her heart and responded with love to what she heard.

Because I have been in relationship with Regina Laudis Abbey for most of my adult life, I know many of the people and incidents that Mother Dolores writes about. My earliest memory is of standing at the front door of Regina Laudis on a winter day in the early 60s with my Aunt Marion and being greeted by the rough Benedicamus Domino of Mother Mary Aline when Mother Dolores was already a young and struggling member of that community. I was one of those young people attracted to the stability and wholeness of that Benedictine foundation in the 1970s. I appreciated Mother Dolores' perspective on the events that transpired during that time and going forward into the present.

I am profoundly grateful to Mother Dolores and Richard for having written this book. Read closely, it is a remarkable story of a spiritual journey that is inspiring in its depth. She does not minimize the struggles involved in responding to the call of life in a Benedictine community, but she writes profoundly of the fulfillment that comes from responding fully to the call of God. Thank you for taking the time and energy required to write.

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I'm currently 60 years old. I currently work as the learning management system specialist for American University of Madaba in Madaba, Jordan. I was originally certified as a high-school English teacher and taught school for 13 years (1 year of substituting, 1 year of 7th grade, 2 years of a combined 5th, 6th, 7th grade, 9 years of 8th grade). I've worked for hardware and software companies for the past 23 years doing training, training materials development, certification test development and other education related stuff. My wife and I have raised four children to adulthood; some of them live at home at the moment, but that won't last (they're too independent for that). We live at home with 2 Golden Retrievers, 2 black cats, a crazy cat, and, during the winter, 70,000 coho salmon.