I was on retreat in upstate NY recently, a contemplative program with Fr. Bill Sheehan. This experience was great, and I had the opportunity to review a book that I might recommend from an Augustine Priest called Fr. Martin Laird. The book is called an “Ocean of Light”, and I highly recommend it.
First of all, Father Martin has a great gift to present complex issues simply. The use of analogy and storytelling helps immensely in navigating waters that are often fraught with hard to grasp concepts. These examples help unravel what can be confusing issues, and he does this in a way that never lets us escape from the source of all the goodness which comes from these prayer forms. Here is an example of how he explains the contemplative prayer from the origin of the fourteenth-century book, the Cloud of Unknowing.
“God is beyond the grasp of concepts; no word can capture God, no word can have the final word on the Word made flesh, who yet dwells among us (Jn 1:14). “God can well be loved,” the author says, “but [God] cannot be thought. By love he can be grasped and held, but by thought neither grasped nor held.” God is eternal, the human mind is finite. If God could be comprehended, surrounded by a concept, this would make us greater than God. We invent the illusion that God is a thing that we lack and must therefore seek, find, and (attempt to) control. During the practice of contemplation, we do not cling to thoughts (though they may cling to us) that change like the weather; nor do we cling to the illusory sense of self that is derived from the constant mental movement and mayhem. The practice of contemplation cultivates stillness in our thinking mind, so that it does not dominate the time for prayer, hurling at us all manner of concepts and inner chatter.” (pp. xiii-xiv).
Martin describes what appears to be a “bleeding out” of the contemplative into the everyday world, where there are no differences between these elements, just “oneness” in relationship to God. Overall I would say this book offers a very useful contribution to the field of contemplative prayer.
Fr. Laird offers helpful reference places for the soul on a journey. He talks about moving from a “reactive mind,” responding (mostly in a negative way) to the goings on in the world and how this feeds our ego and limits our ability to connect with God through contemplative prayer. Then he offers a logical move to the “receptive mind” opening ourselves to the action of the Holy Spirit through contemplative prayer.
I would recommend this book, and it already has a place in our contemplative library at Mater Dolorosa.
We have a great opportunity to practice contemplative prayer you may be surprised how much a contemplative experience can help all your other prayer forms. And give you the bonus of more peace-filled days.
And we can all do with more of them.