Tag Archives: Book Reviews

A Year with Thomas Merton (A Book Reaction)

I’ve been reading this day book off and on for a couple months now, enjoying each 4-5 paragraph reading. My hope in reading has been to see what made Merton who he was in the ordinary. I’ve read and been captivated by several of Merton’s books now and each book has a handful of sentences that extend beyond a normal person’s spiritual experience. As I read, I feel myself pulled into something new, something living.

In A Year with Thomas Merton I have the privelge to see the “normal” Thomas Merton. The days are journal entries, small pictures and captured moments of an ordinary, lived spiritual life.

Of course, where else it is supposed to be lived? …and that’s the point, that’s the gift this book offers. It pulls us down from the esoteric spirituality philosopies and into the back yard garden soil. As I read these daily journal entries (compiled into this day book many years later by some other person), there’s a permission that’s given to re-enter the ordinary and there discover the Presence of Christ.

The Writing Life by Annie Dillard (Book Reaction)

Reading about the life of writing is a search for a muse, a hunt for some artistic stimulation that sends you to your own writing. The Writing Life is like following Dillard around, watching her discover new muses and fight through droughts of non-writing. She keeps you around as a conversation partner, though you don’t have much to say. But this doesn’t bother her.

In a way: A muse igniter is what this book is. You’re brought into the writing lab (wherever that may be) and allowed to read a master’s process. As she works, you feel something within yourself turning over. Like being in the presence of someone quite creative and seeing their creativity create something ex nihilo within your soul, this book is your chance to be the fly on the wall.

Add to this, Dillard is just fun to read – a genius at expressing the uninhibited, real human experience.

The old turns to the new; we fall but upward.

It is through struggle and question that we’re grown; it is God’s presence in the wrestling that we find as our greatest consolation.

This gift is only discovered when the old desire to win, to stand out, or make a name for ourselves fades away. The old turns to the new; we fall but upward.

The early desires are a part of the human experience, a natural lean. They’re the foundational, security building hierarchy of needs sorts of things; we’ll scratch and dig all night for them.

But then the dawn comes and we realize that getting to the gold of China is futile with our fingernails, so we sit up, look across the rim of the hole we’re in, and see the first rays of the Morning Sun.

We pause and watch. This moment has a restful, simple eternal feel to it.

With each inclining degree of light, our questions and our strivings shift. Personal security and personal name no longer preoccupy; instead, we feel a simple warmth to pour into the lives of others, and a freedom to fade, as the sun will also do later in the day, across the western horizon. There to go, there to go.

It’s this awakening of time that Rohr is speaks about, this coming to, or being awakened, to a life that has questions and pursuits (these have been worked at for years). Answers have come but then their paradox follows; a volley like this bats across the years.

More than a question is suffering and struggle. As we carry the scars that come along in our time, our demand for answers fades, replaced by the soul’s desire to just be with God who becomes our consolation more than any gift he could send. It is God alone we come to desire; it is God alone we desire to share.

 

[Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life by Richard Rohr (Book Reaction)]

 

New Seeds of Contemplation by Thomas Merton [Book Reaction]

What did I hope to discover when I opened New Seeds of Contemplation? – I hoped to hear a word of wisdom, something from Merton that was infused in his walk, that might inform my own.

The most affective quote from the book:

When humility delivers a man from attachment to his own works and his own reputation, he discovers that perfect joy is possible only when we have completely forgotten ourselves. And it is only when we pay no more attention to our own deeds and our own reputation and our own excellence that we are at last completely free to serve God in perfection for his own sake alone. (58)

This thought and action is at the heart of everything else Merton wrote in New Seeds; everything else was a step in practicing self-forgetfulness. Not self-debasement or self-destruction, but a revelation that your true self can only be discovered when you lay aside your ego (or rather, the Spirit of God cultivates a new, living life in its place).

This letting go of your ego, your agenda, and the agenda of the current time and culture (e.g. things that clash with Jesus) is the heart and soul of spiritual formation, or as Merton phrases it: Contemplation – life lived in uninhibited union with God, his will in us, for us, and breathed out in our motions.

In order to “get there,” Merton provides a strong point:

“Everyone of us forms an idea of Christ that is limited and incomplete. It is cut according to our own measure. We tend to create for ourselves a Christ in our own image, a projection of our own aspirations, desires and ideals. We find in him but we want to find. We make him not only the incarnation of God but also the incarnation of the things we and our society and our part of society happen to live for.

Therefore, although it is true that perfection consists imitating Christ and reproducing him in our own lives, it is not enough merely to imitate the Christ we have in our imaginations.

We read the Gospels not merely to get a picture or an idea of Christ but to enter in and pass through the words of revelation to establish, by faith, the vital contact with the Christ who dwells in our souls as God.” (156)

This is life. This is “contemplation.” The Gospels and the things in our lives that cause remembrance of Jesus are the seeds of this new life. We must learn the art of cultivation.

Meditating on the Word by Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Book Reaction)

Meditating on the Word by Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Book Reaction)

I picked up this book in hopes for a simple guidance from a trusted source. Like he mentioned of students in a letter to Karl Barth, Bonhoeffer said, “The kind of questions serious young theologians put to us are: ‘How can I learn to pray? How can I learn to read the Bible? Either we can help them do this, or we can’t help them at all.’”

I felt like a young student of Bonhoeffer as I read along, eating up his simple answers.

The little section I resonated most with was written like a short catechism in question and answer.

1.) Why do I meditate?

Because I am a Christian.

Because I am a preacher of the word. I cannot expound on the Scripture for others if I do not let it speak daily to me.

Because I need a firm discipline of prayer. … Prayer is not a free will offering to God; it is an obligatory service, something which he requires. We are not free to engage in it according to our own wishes.

Because I need help against the ungodly haste and unrest which threaten my work as a pastor.

2.) What do I want from my meditation?

We want to meet Christ in his word. We turn to the text in our desire to hear what it is that he wants to give us and teach us today through his Word. Meet him first in the day before you meet other people. Every morning lay upon him everything that preoccupies you and weighs you down, before new burdens are laid upon you. Ask yourself what still hinders you from following him completely and let him take charge of that, before new hindrances are placed in your way.

His fellowship, his help, his guidance for the day through his Word – that is the goal.

3.) How shall I meditate?

[Meditating on Scripture is preferable to free meditation.]

Just as you would not dissect and analyze the word spoken by someone dear to you, but would accept it just as it was said, so you should accept the Word of Scripture and ponder it in your heart as Mary did. Do not look for new thoughts and interconnections in the text as you would a sermon! Do not ask how you should tell it to others, but ask what it tells you! Then ponder this word in your heart at length, until it is entirely within you and has taken possession of you.

This is not the place for the Greek New Testament, but for the familiar Luther text.

We begin our meditations with the prayer for the Holy Spirit, asking for proper concentration for ourselves and for all who we know are also meditating. Then we turn to the text. At the close of the meditation we want to be truly able to say a prayer of thanksgiving from a heart that is full.

What text, and how long should the text be? 10-15 verses and meditate on it over a period of a week. Whatever you do, don’t take the sermon text for the next Sunday!

The time of meditation is in the morning before the beginning of our work. A half hour is the minimum amount of time which a proper meditation requires. It is, of course, necessary that there be complete quiet, and that we intend to allow nothing to divert us, no matter how important it may seem.

4.) How do we overcome the problems of meditation?

The first rule is to not become impatient with yourself. Just sit down again every day and wait very patiently. Incorporate thoughts that come at you into your prayer later on; connect them to the text.

Read the same passage again and again, write down your thoughts, learn the verse by heart. …recognize the danger of fleeing once again from meditation to Bible scholarship and the like. Behind all our uncertainties and needs stands our great need to pray…

On Morning Prayer in Community

Before our daily bread should be the daily Word.

…an hour of quiet time and common devotion.

Although we are often not “in the mood” for it, such devotion is an obligatory serve to the One who desires our praises and prayers, and who will not otherwise bless our day but through His Word and our prayers.

…Grounded in the Scripture, we learn to speak to God in the language which God has spoken to us. We learn to speak to God as the child speaks to its mother.

…Above all, we should read the Psalms together. Then a not-too-modest portion of the Old and New Testaments should be read in series. The songs of the Church will place us in the great congregation of the present and the past. The prayer which one person speaks for the whole fellowship will bring the common concerns of the little congregation before God.

[Quotes, some modified and shortened, but meaning retained, are taken from Meditating on the Word by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, p. 29-41]