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January 2017 Vol 56 No 1
Prayer at Depth

St Mark’s Gospel: Discipleship and Formation

One way of coming to a deeper understanding of any text is to ask for whom it was originally written. Edmonds uses this approach in considering the Gospel of Mark, and then describes five topics that he believes run through Mark’s writing. The last of these five is ourselves, those who read the Gospel today. Can we accept the challenges offered by the Marcan Christ?

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The Consolation of Poetry

In her article Teresa White proposes poetry as a cure for compassion fatigue. She takes the example of a fellow parishioner, who delights in sharing his own love of poetry. Here poetry appears as a contemplative discipline: ‘at its core is the quest for wisdom of heart and mind’. As such, it also bears a close relationship to the core concerns of this journal.

Louis Lallemant and Jesuit Spirituality

Louis Lallemant (1588–1635) was a French Jesuit who spent much of his life training his fellow Jesuits. He was criticized by his contemporaries as being excessively devoted to mystical prayer, although writings that disseminated his teachings had a profound effect on Jesuit spirituality in the following centuries. By paying close attention to the historical context in which Lallemant lived and worked, Bartók sheds new light on this controversy.

The Spiritual Globalisation of Christianity

The ecumenical attempt to bring different strands of Christianity into closer union has often started by comparing doctrine—the teachings of different Churches—and asking what common ground can be found between them. In this article Zas Friz De Col offers an alternative approach. What existing unity might be discovered by researching how the Christian life is actually lived by members of different denominations?

Images that Lead to Prayer

Most readers of The Way will be familiar with imaginative prayer, a practice to which Ignatius of Loyola devoted much attention in his Spiritual Exercises. However, for many this is thought of principally as a way of approaching a scriptural text. Here Fabri suggests that a similar method can be used to find a powerful source of prayerful inspiration in works of art and other images.

Taizé, Contemplative Prayer and the Holy Spirit

From its origins as a small, ecumenical monastic community in post-war France, Taizé has come to have a global reputation as a place of prayer. An important element in this has been its music, a form of chant which has become enormously popular worldwide. Howard describes the effects on a student congregation in the United States, and links their experience to the wider history of mysticism.

Meister Eckhart’s Construal of Mysticism

Although a controversial figure in his own time and for some centuries afterwards, Meister Eckhart is now generally acknowledged as one of the great teachers of mystical prayer, emphasizing the need for detachment. Roy offers a critical introduction to his work, arguing that despite its limitations it leads to a powerful vision of what it means to aim to be united with God.

Theologia: Digging Deeper

According to St Anselm, theology could be understood as fides quaerens intellectum. In English this usually appears as ‘faith seeking understanding’, but Wilson believes that this literal translation misses many of the nuances of Anselm’s definition. He presents here elements that lie behind the summary phrase, and prevent it from being used to uphold a dry and overly academic approach to the quest for a knowledge of God.

Forgiveness and Healing: Confession and the Spiritual Exercises

In the First Week of St Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises there is an opportunity for a sacramental confession of the sins of one’s whole life. Jensen argues that this has usually been too focused on forgiveness of sin, to the neglect of the healing of spiritual and psychological wounds, which he suggests are an equally important effect of the sacrament.

'See, Judge, Act' and Ignatian Spirituality

‘See, judge, act’ is a method of discernment popularised by Catholic Action in the twentieth century, and taken up by the Basic Ecclesial Communities of Latin America and elsewhere. Sheppard compares it with the principles of Ignatian discernment, concluding that a synthesis of the two approaches offers a powerful tool for discovering the will of God in a deeply secularised world.

From the Foreword

T HERE IS NO SHORTAGE of books introducing prayer and methods of prayer to those wishing to set out on the nursery slopes. At the same time academic journals of theology describe and analyze the work of the great Christian mystics and the phenomena that accompany their approach to God. Less, perhaps, has been written on the stages in between. How does a life of prayer grow and deepen over time? What are the different pathways that such a life might take, and how are these to be evaluated? The essays collected in this issue of The Way approach questions of this kind from different perspectives, but each of them has something to say about a deeper prayer and its effects.

Although the word ‘contemplation’ is used slightly differently in diverse spiritualities, at its core is the idea of a quiet gaze at an object, striving to become open to its reality without an excess of analysis or response. Artworks can profitably be approached in this way, and Walter Fabri’s article offers a practical guide to making this process into a prayerful exercise. Poetry may also be employed like this, and Teresa White offers an example of the effects of such a discipline. Music, too, is profitable for contemplation, and Karen Howard traces ways in which the popular chants of Taizé manage to touch the lives of participants through a structured encounter.

Within Ignatian spirituality, of course, it is the Spiritual Exercises that offer the royal route to a deeper experience of God in prayer. Eric Jensen here looks specifically at that part of the Exercises, the First Week, that brings sin and forgiveness to the fore. He describes how, as he has worked with this material, it has also often brought up issues about the healing of spiritual and psychological wounds, frequently from the distant past of a retreatant’s life; and he asks how this situation might best be addressed. Jim Sheppard deals with the next stage of the Exercises, which will usually involve a process of discernment. He compares Ignatius’ guidelines with those of the ‘observe, judge, act’ process made popular by Catholic Action and the Young Christian Workers.

The Gospel of Mark is found at the very roots of Christianity. Peter Edmonds offers a comprehensive summary of that innovative work, and shows how, at its heart, there is an appeal to contemporary experience that is perennially fresh and challenging for its readers. And Rossano Zas Friz De Col appeals to this same experience as the basis for a comparison between different strands of Christianity, suggesting that unity is more likely to be discovered at this level than in more abstract doctrinal discussion.

Tibor Bartók looks back in time to the practices of a French Jesuit, Louis Lallemant, acknowledged in his own time as a spiritual master, albeit one who remains to this day a controversial figure. The same might be said of Meister Eckhart, a mystic and writer on mysticism. In his article Louis Roy acknowledges Eckhart’s shortcomings, but makes a strong case for the contemporary relevance of his understanding of detachment. Going back still further, one of the brief remarks for which St Anselm is best remembered is his definition of theology as ‘faith seeking understanding’. This definition appeals greatly to George Wilson, although he uses his essay here to argue that much of its force runs the risk of being lost in translation.

Paul Nicholson SJ

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