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Into the Silent Land – The Practice of Contemplation

Darton, Longman and Todd
RRP $34.95

Given the need to allocate time for family, work, study, the school P&C, hobbies, church, and the World Cup, I have always been bemused by gospel imperatives to “be still” and “receive peace” and to hear the “still small voice”… it all seemed at odds.

And I had never heard of the Christian contemplative tradition – preferring to think, as many do, that other religions reserved such practices. But I have now heard from this book by American theologian, Associate Professor Martin Laird OSA.

The Oxford University Press promotes Into the Silent Land as “describing the Christian tradition of contemplation using a prayer word to focus the mind, working with the breath to cultivate stillness, and the practice of inner vigilance or awareness”.

The book is small because the author stays focused on the practice of the prayer word and how to handle the mind games that are found along the way to the stillness of the prayer technique.

Some aspects of technique are repeated several times in the writing. I wondered if the repeats were necessary and decided they were. After all, the mind does rush around from one inhibition to ten distractions!

The book is focused, practical (for such a topic), easily understood and strangely relevant. I found myself being intrigued by how the author ties in the gospel notion of meeting God in the quiet.

I found a new understanding of these concepts after all these years. And while I have to admit since reading the book I still haven’t tried contemplation yet (typical), Rev Desmond Tutu says on the back cover, “I tried it and it works, try it”.

I’ll have to come back to this book – something about the contemplative tradition as described by Martin Laird is captivating.

 Reviewed by Michael Hewson, a member of The Hills Uniting Church