Monday, April 27, 2015

Opening to God: A Guide to Prayer

by Thomas H. Green, S.J.

Why You Should Read This:
  • A practical, insightful, interesting introduction to the spiritual life.
  • It's for beginners (meaning ordinary practicing Catholics, not brand new converts), but it has a depth that is refreshing considering the number of simplistic, schmaltzy books.
And Why You Shouldn't:
  • If you're not Catholic, you might find it hard to stomach/understand/enjoy. Obviously.
  • If you are SO Catholic that you've moved beyond such a beginner's stage. Considering how useful I found it, having been a practicing Catholic for my whole life, and someone who knows her Faith pretty darn well--I think it would still be helpful to most people. (Specifically those in the first age of the interior life, which I'm assuming is most people.)

Thoughts: It's obvious to me that this was written by a long-time spiritual director, with lots of actual experience with real people. It's very practical, concerned not only with the meaning of prayer, but in what works and what doesn't, and the steps to follow when trying to become closer to God.

Here here follows a bunch of long and kind of personal reflections on small parts that struck me while reading:
  • There is a wonderful description of prayer on page 41, where it is called "learning to waste time gracefully". I am going to try to remember that one.
  • It discusses the importance of a spiritual director and openness and talking to other people on page 53. All very good stuff for me to hear, especially about how the devil likes to work through secrecy. It's certainly been a major part of my life, understanding how important it is to be open and not keep all one's doubts and troubles hidden away, and something I'm still working on. (Gotta get a spiritual director. So hard to find a good and appropriate one though, sigh.)
  • In a similar way, the discussion on penance on page 76 was important for me to read, I think. I have had some form of scrupulosity, and it's important to remember that penance for it's own sake is not healthy. There are three reasons for penance: satisfaction for sins, to overcome our selfishness, and as a means of prayer. It is good to be clear on the purpose for your penance and choose it suited for its purpose. I think it also helps me want to do penance, if it really seems to have a meaning and a reason and some specific good it's working towards. Apparently (according to St. Ignatius) it can also be a good means to combat desolation (though again, as a means to an end, not an end in itself).
  • To back track a bit: pg. 56-8 was a fascinating insight on the experience of being a Catholic seeking a life of prayer before and after Vatican II. Fr. Green has a balanced view, and seems to get at the heart of the matter without dismissing either point of view.
  • Page 88-9 discussed meditation, and the importance of preparation: first the remote preparation, usually the night before, and then the immediate preparation. This is something I hadn't given much importance to before, despite its importance.
  • There's some good advice concerning the examination of conscience on pg. 80. One should use a "divide and conquer" principle, of taking your faults one at a time on working on them separately in this fashion, concentrating on the ones most impeding your growth. It is especially useful to do a nightly "particular exam", where one focuses on that specific area and where it has been blocking one's path to God during that day. According to Ignatius, the examen is even more important than meditation.
  • The discussion on page 90-91 on between what he calls "meditation" vs "contemplation" was quite interesting. The terminology changes a lot between authors and is not rigorously defined, but Fr. Green uses "meditation" to refer to the use of understanding and reason to pray and get to know God better, while "contemplation" uses the imaginative faculties. With these terms in mind, I'm definitely a meditation sort of girl. Imagination has never served me particularly well. I wish this were an are where the terms were better defined, as I'd be interesting in reading more about these two forms and their differences.
  • And to sum up, in an excellent quote by St. Teresa of Avila (my patron saint) that is yet again really good for me personally to read and think about: "The important thing is not to think much but to love much: do, then, whatever most arouses you to love." (pg. 103).
So there we go. Enough random thoughts for one review, eh? But indeed, this book was very helpful to me. Coming at just the same time as a three day silent retreat, it helped give a boost to my spiritual life, for which I am very grateful.

Grade: 4 stars

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