It’s sometimes hard as a publisher to gauge how your books change or affect people’s lives and how widely they are dispersed. Occasionally, however, you get a glimpse of the potential importance of your work in the surprising connections that your titles make. I received an email from a supporter of Jens Soering, an author of ours who is currently in prison. Jens was the author of four titles—two on faith and Christian prayer (The Way of the Prisoner and The Church of the Second Chance) and two on the prison-industrial complex (An Expensive Way to Make Bad People Worse and One Day in the Life of 179212). Another supporter had sent Jens a letter detailing that yet another supporter—Fr. James Wiseman, an abbot at St. Anselm’s Abbey, Washington—had recently walked the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela in Spain. (You may know of this particular pilgrimage through The Way, the movie made by Martin Sheen and his son Emilio Estevez).
Fr. Wiseman had told Pat that at Compostela there was a very small English-language library for pilgrims, in which he found a copy of The Way of the Prisoner. Jens himself speculated that Martin Sheen may have left a copy there himself! What Jens doesn’t know is that Fr. Wiseman is also an author published by Lantern! He was involved in Monastic Interreligious Dialogue (MID) back when Lantern began to publish its bulletins, in the early 2000s, and was the co-editor of volumes on the first and second of the Gethsemani Encounters—the meetings of Buddhist, Hindu, and Christian monks and nuns that took place at Gethsemani Abbey, Kentucky, in the 1990s. These volumes, which were initially published by Continuum and Doubleday respectively, went out of print, and we republished them as The Spiritual Life: A Dialogue of Buddhist and Christian Monastics and Finding Peace in Troubled Times: Buddhist and Christian Monastics on Transforming Suffering.
But the connections don’t stop there. It so happens that I (Martin) was in London in early June, where I attended the third annual Wangari Maathai Memorial Lecture at St. James’ Church, Piccadilly. Lantern and I were deeply involved in the life and work of the late Wangari Maathai, the Kenyan environmentalist and activist who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004 for her efforts in conservation, democracy, and peace. Lantern had published her first book, The Green Belt Movement (the name of the organization she founded), and a book about her life and work, called Wangari Maathai: Visionary, Environmental Leader, Political Activist by Namulundah Florence, a fellow Kenyan and educator.
At the event, there was a musical interlude by a cellist called Michael Fitzpatrick. He told me that he had met me before: at Benedict’s Dharma, a conference held the week after 9/11 at Our Lady of Grace Monastery in Beech Grove, Indiana, under the auspices of Sr. Mary Margaret Funk, an author at my former company (Continuum) and an author at my current one. That event, so weighty given its proximity to 9/11, had been where I’d been introduced to Ven. Yifa, a Buddhist nun who was to write four books for Lantern. Also present was, of course, Fr. James Wiseman. It seemed especially poignant given how Wangari Maathai had herself been educated by Catholic nuns in Kenya and in the United States that it should be the Catholic faith and the church in general that tied these disparate threads of our publishing program together over such temporal and spatial distances.
We send our books out into the world and they are carried into unlikely places. To that extent, our books are all on pilgrimages, accompanying our life’s journeys, whether in our imagination or with one foot in front of the other. It’s also an example a vibration—the strings of a cello echoing across the distance of a decade and a half—holding these stories together; and at their heart, if you’ll forgive me, a wise man!