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January 2016 Vol 55 No 1

Prayer and Those Who Pray

Lessons from the Spirit of Pedro Arrupe: For the Seventieth Anniversary of Hiroshima

Pedro Arrupe was Superior General of the Jesuits in the turbulent years immediately after the Second Vatican Council. Earlier on in his Jesuit life, he had been novice master in Hiroshima when the first atomic bomb was dropped on that city. Here James Menkhaus asks what lessons can be drawn from Arrupe’s experience seven decades after Hiroshima was destroyed.

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Praying with Images: Some Medieval Advice

Of the three Abrahamic faiths, Christianity has been most consistently content to use images as an aid to prayer. Here Anne Mouron describes a late medieval text, The Desert of Religion, which offered the monks for whom it was originally intended a series of meditative illustrations alongside its poetic text. This can suggest ways of incorporating such images into prayer in a way that has lost none of its relevance in the intervening centuries.

Saints, the Church and Personal Prayer

‘The reason why the universal Church canonizes saints is so that we will look around us and see examples of holiness for us to copy’. Starting from this premise, and drawing on examples from poetry, art, and the writings of Thomas Merton, Robert Doud reflects on how such examples can touch our own prayer, and so enable a deeper growth of that holiness that is the ultimate goal of any Christian life.

Bede Griffiths’s Advaitic Approach to Religion

Advaita is a Hindu term signifying a certain unity between human beings and the divine. The Christian theologian Bede Griffiths attempted to reconcile this notion with his own faith, and use it to open up a dialogue with Eastern religions. Although such an understanding remains controversial, Ambrose Ih-Ren Mong argues that it represents an important element in the relationship between Indian Christians and their Hindu neighbours.

Pray Anywhere

Matt Kappadakunel is a busy investment manager living in Los Angeles. Like many committed Christians, he struggles to find time to pray as he would wish to. Here, in our occasional Spirituality and Living strand, he offers a New Year reflection on ways of finding times and spaces for prayer.

A Reflection on the Charism of Religious Life

Within the Roman Catholic church, a ‘Year of Religious Life’ has just drawn to a close. Loan Le here draws on the thought of the French Dominican theologian Jean-Marie Tillard to show how a state of life characterized by the three vow of poverty, charity and obedience can only be fully understood in the context of the wider Church. For it is only within the Church that we can hear and respond to such a call of the Spirit.

Paying Attention to the Wisdom of Our Sorrows

The idea of making use of the experience of sorrow in order to live a more positive and fruitful life may seem a strange one. However, in his work as a psychotherapist over the last three decades, Peter Wilcox has become convinced that this is possible. Here he suggests ways in which sorrows can indeed be used positively in this way, rather than being wasted in regret and recrimination.

The Experience of the Absence Of God according to John of the Cross

The experience of God’s silence or seeming absence has been described by many Christians (and Jews) over many centuries. For some, this has led to an abandonment of their faith; for others, the experience has ultimately led them to a deeper trust in God. The Spanish Carmelite John of the Cross, reflected deeply on this phenomenon, and here Louis Roy traces some aspects of his thought.

The “Ordinary” Contemplative Life and the “Little Way” of Social Justice

Many would think of the contemplative life as one that withdraws from the world and its demands into silence and prayer. As such it would seem to be the polar opposite of, and incompatible with, working for social justice. Meredith Secomb’s work in clinical psychologist has led her to believe that these two approaches to the world need to be brought together, and are not only compatible but mutually enriching.

From the Foreword

I T IS NOT UNUSUAL, among the New Year’s resolutions made by Christians, to find some related to prayer. People hope to pray more regularly, or for longer, or with greater attentiveness. Nor is it unusual, as with most such resolutions made at this time of year, to find them abandoned and forgotten after just a few days. Yet the desire to live a better life of prayer does not go away, and seems somehow to be hardwired into the spirituality of the average follower of Christ.

This issue of The Way looks at both what it means to pray and who it is that is doing the praying. Anne Mouron takes us back to the late Middle Ages, describing a manual to aid monastic prayer assisted by very contemporary-looking illustrations and diagrams. Matt Kappadakunnel outlines how, when seeking to discover ways of praying in a very busy life, finding suitable places may be as important as being able to set aside an appropriate amount of time. Meanwhile, if working for social justice seems at first sight to be at the opposite end of the spectrum of Christian living from contemplative prayer, Meredith Secomb suggests that these two approaches can be seen as complementary rather than competing.

Sometimes negative experiences block that road to God that is opened up by prayer. A factor common to Christianity and Judaism is the feeling of God’s absence, and the desire to make some sense of it. In Christian spirituality one of the chief exponents of this quest for understanding is the Carmelite friar St John of the Cross. He called the experience of God’s seeming absence the ‘dark night of the soul’, and Louis Roy here shows the continuing relevance of his analysis. As a practising psychotherapist for the past three decades, Peter Wilcox has had plenty of opportunity to see how some people are able to make use of the sorrowful aspects of their lives to grow in fruitfulness, and applies his insights to faith development. Few events of the last century can have been more challenging to faith in a good and caring God than the dropping of atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Pedro Arrupe, who would later become Superior General of the Jesuits, survived the first of these bombings and tended its victims. James Menkhaus draws lessons from his experience, seventy years on.

Strictly speaking, prayer can never be merely a solitary activity, linking us as it does not simply with God but with all those others who have prayed through the centuries. Robert Doud asks how we can be supported in our own attempts to pray by what the Roman Catholic Church traditionally calls ‘the communion of saints’. Bede Griffiths was a Christian spiritual writer deeply influenced by Hinduism. Ambrose Ih-Ren Mong explores his understanding of the Hindu concept of advaita, union with the divine, and how this deepened Griffiths’s own faith. Finally, prayer is at the heart of traditional religious life in community, and Loan Le’s essay outlines the belief of the French Dominican Jean-Marie Tillard that such a life could only be understood in the wider context of the Church.

Paul Nicholson SJ

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