Book Review: Christian Meditation: Experiencing the Presence of God by James Finley
by Peter Menkin 1/20/2009 / Book Reviews
For the ongoing spiritual journey
There is so much in this hardback with the attractive dustcover that it is difficult to know where to start. The author, James Finley, says what his book is about from his perspective as the writer, and what could be better: "...I am sharing with you what I have learned thus far in my ongoing spiritual journey." For people who see their life as a spiritual journey, even a pilgrimage or travel through the desert, James Finley has written an articulate if somewhat detailed text on being with and learning to seek God in ones life.
I had read somewhere in a book about the poor by the Jesuit Gary Smith that Christ is seeking us, and that we are "followed" by Christ. This book purports that one lives and prays a realized oneness with God, preparing oneself through contemplation as one discipline. "When engaged in contemplation, we rest in God resting in us. We are at home in God at home in us." The role is basically receptive.
The person who seeks God in this way, so the book instructs, and the book is a kind of instruction by one who has knowledge to share, and a heart with love to teach, will have a "life-transforming realization of oneness with God." In some way, by manner of practice, and the nature of contemplation. Some of his phrases are moving, and give reason to think about with a reverent consideration that looks towards divine destinations. He does this in the Christian way. One can "...quietly begin to illumine the most intimate of moments."
In this conversion of life and the heart, which I have practiced and in practicing found this book useful as a contemplative seeking and traveling the way, even when not knowing the path but being there anyway, I found the practice of meditation is a starting point in the interior journey. This isn't a gibberish of the supernatural; the practice can extend to quiet moments of the sunset, or taking coffee in the morning. He suggests the day by day time of "Here I am, Lord."
There is a lot of ground and stuff and thoughts and ways discussed in this 286 page book by the former Trappist Monk who studied with Thomas Merton. Ones heart can be combined or moved in a way that connects it with similar experiences of past and passing centuries. Here is one lesson that is gained through Christian meditation:
"...meditation embodies a desire for God that brings us back full circle to a more clear-minded, Christlike compassion for others and our selves." I am going to tell you something that took the author a while to say in the section on "A Ladder to Heaven." When the Lord or we self disclose our love to another we seek to have our heart met and hearing that love come back to us. God does this with us in contemplation and meditation. There is this God of love which is the Christian love, and it is a powerful, drawing, and fulfilling force.
There are risks to the contemplative practice in the Christian tradition, outlined, explained, and taught in this book by HarperSan Francisco. "Dealing with the dying away of who we used to be." "Ego-based ways of experiencing ourselves are yeilding..." Sometimes the transformative experience is extremely difficult.
James Finley likes to explain the journey, and he tells us that the journey can be hidden, that He is hidden and that He does abide within us. So he quotes Saint John of the Cross. In my own life I have sought this method of prayer and practiced it, relying on the centering qualities and the quietude. Sometimes I have entered into the desert of aloness of my own life, and faced myself and memories. A hard thing to do, and one that can necessarily be something one endures. All in all, on what is called in this good book of contemplative life and doing, one is learning and practicing the general loving awarenesss to rest in the passageways. It is the claim of the author that this method of prayer, more a practice and part of living life, is an experience of spiritual fulfillment. The contemplative would say so, too. By that I mean others than James Finley, who has been steeped in this knowledge and carefully writes about it as a teacher in the book.
Before I close, here is the nondual oneness with God that is a ground of the experience, outlined as entering the mind of Christ. "...rest silently in God's presence..." This way allows "...access into the depths of realized oneness with God that is at once Christ's life and your own." As a reviewer, my suggestion is to read with care and with some patience this detailed book about Christian meditation, and to pause from time to time to think on some of the concepts and things written. Plainly, the practice is a simple resting in attentive openness to God.
There is some how-to in the book, where to set your eye glance, breathing, and the like. For this reader, who recommends this book to the seeker, the better parts are the explanations of experience and the preparation for the silent reception of God. Certainly a good book for seekers. This is a book of the ongoing spiritual journey.
--Peter Menkin, Obl Cam OSB
Peter Menkin, an aspiring poet, lives in Mill Valley, CA USA where he writes poetry. He is an Oblate of Immaculate Heart Hermitage, Big Sur, CA and that means he is a Camaldoli Benedictine. He is 64 years of age as of 2010.