I am not much one for book reviews (in fact, I think this may be my first ever on any blog!). But as I am writing my way through this month in relation to my spiritual formation grad school program, and I am reading some good books as part of that, I thought it might be helpful to give a quick picture of what those books are, as I finish them.
Last night, I finished reading Opening to God: A Guide to Prayer by Thomas H. Green. It was sort of a little primer on how to begin praying. How to overcome our ideas of what prayer ought to be, with little nudges for “the beginner” in the way of both technique and basis for prayer.
I love the heart of prayer as he describes it: “the opening of the mind and heart to God.” He continues “…the idea of opening stresses receptivity, responsiveness to another. To open to another is to act, but it is to act in such a way that the other remains the dominant partner.”
I have long heard prayer described very methodologically (e.g. ACTS: Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication as the steps to a complete prayer time), and otherwise left up to each person’s individual experience. It was very helpful to read some of what he writes about the heart of prayer.
“Hearing or listening is a good metaphor for prayer. The good pray-er is above all a good listener. Prayer is dialogue; it is a personal encounter in love. When we communicate with someone we care about, we speak and we listen. But even our speaking is responsive: What we say depends on what the other person has said to us. Otherwise we don’t have real dialogue, but rather two monologues running along side by side.”
There were sections I had some difficulty with. Thomas Green was a Jesuit missionary in the second half of the last century (this book published in 1977), and there are some pieces of Catholic flavor that come through – and I’m not quite sure what to do with – such as penance, and saying the rosary. His basis for much of his writing here is the Ignatian tradition and exercises, which I am very intrigued to learn more about.
My favorite part was his discussion of meditation and contemplation. He describes “meditation” as reflection on a biblical passage, using reason. “Contemplation,” on the other hand – which I, the untrained, have surely used synonymously with meditation previous to this – “involves imaginatively entering into the incident we are considering – being present at the event, seeing it happen as if we were actually participants ourselves.”
This morning was Sunday, and in the course of the Liturgy, the story of Bartimaeus was read. And so – this book’s content fresh in my mind – I found myself moving into this imaginative contemplation as the passage was being read:
Then they reached Jericho, and as Jesus and his disciples left town, a large crowd followed him. A blind beggar named Bartimaeus (son of Timaeus) was sitting beside the road.
When Bartimaeus heard that Jesus of Nazareth was nearby, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”
“Be quiet!” many of the people yelled at him.
But he only shouted louder, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”
When Jesus heard him, he stopped and said, “Tell him to come here.”
So they called the blind man. “Cheer up,” they said. “Come on, he’s calling you!”
Bartimaeus threw aside his coat, jumped up, and came to Jesus.
“What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked.
“My Rabbi,” the blind man said, “I want to see!”
And Jesus said to him, “Go, for your faith has healed you.” Instantly the man could see, and he followed Jesus down the road. (Mark 10:46-52)
I was in tears by the end, because truly the cry of my heart echoes the blind man: “I want to see.” I have mentioned before my uncertainty surrounding a lot of the theological background to the program, and I long for a sense of understanding even within my own self as far as what I think is true and the basis for living. I want to see.
So without meaning to, I began putting into practice some of what he offers here in his short introductory guide. And I have a feeling all of its content won’t be leaving me soon. Within its covers are also brief introductions to what a spiritual director is and does, and some passing thoughts on darkness and light, as well as being rooted and embodied.
I leave you with this quote, which I suspect may become fairly central for me as I consider my creative prayer life in the way of art and found poetry:
“I am an embodied spirit. My most spiritual acts need to be incarnated, enfleshed, sacramentalized. …my body… can often say what my heart cannot.”