I am excited to share my review of Into the Silent Land: A Guide to the Christian Practice of Contemplation by Martin Laird.
Martin Laird, O.S.A, is Professor of Early Christian Studies at Villanova University. Laird is the author of several books on Early Christian thought and Christian contemplative life, including An Ocean of Light, Into the Silent Land and A Sunlit Absence. He lectures widely through the United States, the United Kingdom, and Ireland.
The book begins: “We are built for contemplation. This book is about cultivating the skills necessary for this subtlest, simplest, and most searching of the spiritual arts. Communion with God in the silence of the heart is a God-given capacity, like the rhododendron’s capacity to flower, the fledgling’s for flight, and the child’s for self-forgetful abandon and joy.”
Let me share six key points I found very helpful.
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“There are two contemplative practices of fundamental importance in the Christian tradition: the practice of stillness (also called meditation, still prayer, contemplative prayer, etc.) and the practice of watchfulness or awareness.”
Of course there are various stillness practices. Let me name a few: Centering Prayer, Christian Meditation, the Jesus Prayer, Lectio Divina, chanting, walking, Visio Divina. It is important to find your practice. Dig deep in this well. See where it takes you.
As you progress in your practice, you seem to develop the ability of watchfulness or awareness. You begin to create a space between your thoughts and you. You are not your thoughts. They are not always who you are. You can choose which ones to keep and which ones to let go of.
God: Ground of Our Being
“Because God is the ground of our being, the relationship between creature and Creator is such that, by sheer grace, separation is not possible.”
“The fact that most of us experience throughout most of our lives a sense of absence or distance from God is the great illusion that we are caught up in; it is the human condition.”
“For when the mind is brought to stillness, and all our strategies of acquisition have dropped, a deeper truth presents itself: we are and have always been one with God and we are all one in God (Jn 17: 21).”
Each time we sit in silence we sit with God. The paradox is the God we sit with in silence continues to be with us even during our non silent times. It is us who forget this. Silence teaches us that we have always been one with God. Silence teaches us that the God we sit with is a constant presence as we move throughout the day.
We are the Mountain
“When the mind is brought to stillness we see that we are the mountain and not the changing patterns of weather appearing on the mountain.”
“For a lifetime we have taken this weather—our thoughts and feelings—to be ourselves, taken ourselves to be this video to which the attention is riveted. Stillness reveals that we are the silent, vast awareness in which the video is playing.”
“This move from victim to witness is an early psychological fruit of the contemplative journey. It is deeply liberating and gives us a sense of possibility for real change in our lives.”
We are not our thoughts. We are much deeper than our thoughts. We are the vast awareness on which our thoughts seem to rest. Stillness helps us become more aware. We learn to just be with life. We learn to enjoy life. We look forward to life. We begin to see things we previously never noticed. Stillness is a portal to a vast and new world!
“God is always Self-giving; it is a question of removing the obstacles that make it difficult to receive this Self-gift. This receptivity is what contemplative practice cultivates.”
“Contemplative prayer is the prayer of just being.”
“Union with God is not something that needs to be acquired but realized.”
A contemplative practice facilitates the inner ability to receive all that God wishes to give us. As Thomas Keating said, “God wants to share with us even in this life the maximum amount of divine life that we can possibly contain.” We discover that this is possible as we let go and open to God in the silence of our practice.
“The practice of silence nourishes vigilance, self-knowledge, letting go, and the compassionate embrace of all whom we would otherwise be quick to condemn.”
We do not enter silence for its fruits. We enter the silence because we love God. We want a deeper and more intimate relationship with our Creator. God seems to have other plans. God blesses us with wisdom for daily tasks. God fills us with patience and confidence. God blasts us with an excitement for life. God enables us to have empathy and compassion for others.
“When you turn your attention from the object of your awareness to the awareness itself, there is just silent, vast, openness that has never been wounded, harmed, angry, frightened, incomplete. This is who you are.”
This is the exciting part. We get to spend a life time exploring the vast, luminous and endless depths of silence.
I encourage you to read this wonderful primer on Into the Silent Land which is also the title of this powerful book.
Enjoy my past review of an Ocean of Light by Martin Laird.
I am currently taking on one on one coaching clients. I also work with churches to introduce Centering Prayer and help establish weekly centering prayer meetings. Contact me for more information.
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