Into The Silent Land: A Guide To The Christian Practice Of Contemplation, by Martin Laird
As someone who reads a great deal about the issue of contemplation and meditation, I have to say that this is the sort of book that I view as important even if it is one that I deeply disagree with. Indeed, this book deserves at least some credit in that it spurred me to write about the subject of biblical contemplation and meditation, which is something far different than the author makes it out to be. And why the “Christian” contemplation discussed here is so different from the biblical one is something that is worth saying, because while this book does quote a great deal from the Bible, it does not do so in the way that one would expect, in terms of looking at passages and stories, but rather it cites the Bible the way it cites various Hellenistic Christians of the monastic variety whose practices are far more in line with heathen forms of meditation than with biblical forms. There are a great many reasons why this is the case, including the fact that a great many people value tradition higher than scripture and are looking for support for what they already want to do anyway, but this book is a worthwhile one if short.
Coming in at a bit less than 150 pages, this quarto-sized book contains seven chapters. The author begins with some acknowledgments and a discussion of God as our homeland as a way of introducing contemplation and mysticism. The first chapter discusses the separation of mankind from God as an illusion (rather than a reflection of the real effects of sin) (1). After that the author talks about the wild hawk of the mind (2) and the body’s call to prayer (3). This leads to a somewhat lengthy discussion of the three doorways of the present moment (4), which owes a great deal to the contemplative thought of St. Theresa and St. John of the Cross. After that there is a discussion about the riddles of distraction (5) and how they are to be dealt with in contemplation. After this there is a discussion of the way that one moves from victim to witness by dealing successfully with affliction (6) as well as a discussion of temptation, humility, and failure where the author finally addresses the important matter of repentance (7). The book then ends with a tale of monastic failure/success in an epilogue before the customary end notes.
Ultimately, this book is useful if one wants to understand the culture of Hellenistic Christian contemplation throughout history, going back to the ascetic Egyptian desert fathers, the establishment of monasteries in the West, and the importance of monastic life as an aspect of the contemplative life. The book obviously does a less successful job of encouraging people to live a godly life here and now, as the author is more concerned about what people think about contemplation and how Christian contemplation can be made to be as hip a Buddhist contemplation than what the Bible says about it and how the people in the Bible practiced it. One will search in vain in this book for encouragement in meditating on God’s laws and precepts, which the author seems not to know very well, and it is only at the very end of the book that the author deals with repentance, which is the first step to closing the separation and alienation that exists between God and mankind. If this book is not without worth, the author seems unaware of and uninterested in the gap that exists between the author’s idea of Christian contemplation as understood through tradition and the biblical model of contemplation that is not emptiness but always has some sort of biblical and scriptural matter in mind that is being contemplated and reflected on.