Tantalus and the Pelican

Tantalus and the Pelican

This is an informative and engaging book about monasticism, its history, practice, and relevance to contemporary life, combining personal insights with sound scholarship.

This book combines a detailed and informative exposition of the Christian monastic tradition with the engaging story of a spiritual journey from despair and alcoholism to faith and redemption, via an ashram in India, Buddhism, academia and reality TV. 

Beginning with the origins of monasticism in the deserts of Egypt during the 4th century, the book considers some of the essential features of early monastic spirituality, before going on to explore key elements of the Benedictine tradition, drawing out its profoundly counter-cultural message for our times. 

In the final section, the narrative turns inwards to focus on the more interior aspects of spirituality – such as prayer and silence – concluding with some reflections on the author’s own vocation to the priesthood.


“I found this book to be a deeply satisfying read. It deals intelligently, clearly and humanely with a number of important spiritual issues, and it made me think. About faith, about doubt, and – dare I say it – even about God. I highly recommend it.”

Anne Brooke, Vulpis Libris

“As a reader might imagine, this book can be compelling. Buxton’s trajectory is dramatic, and he writes about it with clarity and candour. He’s well-read and well-versed in the early monastic heavy hitters, quoting the abbas, Evagrius, and Benedict extensively and easily.”

American Benedictine Review

“Sensitive and perceptive…  It is also very readable… Stretching out to what is of ultimate value is tantalising; a book about it must inevitably be incomplete, leaving us wanting more. Good books do that.”

Jonathan Ewer, Church Times

“I can warmly commend the book as ‘spiritual reading’ in itself, as it is thoughtful, interesting, researched, well-written, original and accessible… It would be a good book to take away for retreat reading!”

Sister Avis Mary SLG, Fairacres Chronicle

“… one of the things that gives Tantalus and the Pelican its interest is its account of a spiritual development so characteristic of our times… This is a carefully crafted and intelligent book, weaving together a number of themes… Buxton now possesses a language in which to articulate some of his deepest insights into monasticism and to argue not simply for its value but for its necessity… He writes with sensitivity, understanding and a kind of yearning about its appeal.”

Gillian Leslie, The Tablet

“This is a very enjoyable and lucid book”

The Pastoral Review


Dose Nation 10, 25 Feb 2013, an interview with James Kent and Jake Kettle, talking about Tantalus and the Pelican, monasticism and much else.

Dose Nation 43, 12 Feb 2014, a second interview with James Kent and Jake Kettle, talking about contemporary spirituality and various things.

Lonely Guru Podcast, 20 June 2018, discussing contemplative Christianity, Buddhism and various things with Ryan Spielman.

Wise Studies Podcast, 30 May 2020, discussing contemplative Christianity with Ryan Spielman.