Tantalus and the Pelican

Exploring Monastic Spirituality Today

Monasticism is full of intriguing paradoxes. Contrary to what may be supposed, it is not an escape from the world, but rather a deeper engagement with the reality of being human. This book explains the ‘point’ of the monastic life, and the valuable lessons we can draw from it today.

The story begins with the origins of monasticism in the deserts of Egypt during the 4th century, and the writings of Evagrius of Pontus, principal systematiser of early monastic theology. At the same time, the author’s own encounters with various forms of monasticism are woven into the narrative.

Subsequent chapters look at St Benedict, and the significant elements of his monastic rule, reflecting on the counter-cultural message of monasticism in contemporary society – not to mention the curious phenomenon of a monastic reality TV show…

Finally, the book focuses on the more interior aspects of spirituality – such as prayer and silence – drawing in particular on the experience of staying with the Carthusians, an order of hermits closely modelled on the desert fathers.


“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 boom 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

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