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Into the Silent Land: A Guide to the Christian Practice of Contemplation Hardcover – July 1, 2006
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"This is a beautifully written book. The language is profound, poetic, and free of worn cliches. It has obviously grown out of a life of study, erudition, and personal prayer." --Worship
"Into the Silent Land by Martin Laird is a wonderful introduction to the subject of contemplation. It has a vitality and relevance that are gripping. Contemplative books are often dry, but I found this a page-turner." --Church Times
"In a world hungering for practical spiritual direction on how to manage distractions, moods, bodily posture, breathing, suffering, illness, addiction, and dying, Laird's book stands out as a treasure to share with anyone who is seeking greater wisdom and peace. He provides us with an eminently accessible doorway into the land of God's loving silence." --Horizons
"Larid's book defines how to sink back in God's ground physically with breathing, mentally with "prayer words," and spiritually with interior surrender. Through anecdote, Scripture, and classic wisdom, Laird illuminates a Christian path into the silent land. An able guide, he makes the trip more than worth the journey." --Christianity Today
"This book is different. There are plenty of books on contemplation that feel rather tired--either wordy and labored or unhelpfully smooth and idealistic. But this is sharp, deep, with no clichés, no psychobabble and no short cuts. Its honesty is bracing, its vision utterly clear; it is a rare treasure."--Rowan Williams, The Archbishop of Canterbury
"Often they say 'you learn how to swim by swimming' but a good coach or swimming manual is essential. Equally, we could say 'you learn how to be contemplative by contemplating' and a good guide or mentor is necessary. Into the Silent Land is just that. I tried it and it works. Try it."--Archbishop Desmond Tutu, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize
"This is a beautifully written book. The language is profound, poetic, and free of worn clichés. It has obviously grown out of a life of study, erudition and personal prayer."--Worship
"Into the Silent Land is a beautiful and deeply consoling book, a reminder that prayer is both real and fundamentally simple. Not since Thomas Merton's Contemplative Prayer have I encountered a guide to contemplation this wise and compelling."--Douglas Burton-Christie, author of The Word in the Desert: Scripture and the Quest for Holiness in Early Christian Monasticism
"With wisdom born of a life of prayer and study, Martin Laird invites us out of distraction and into the silent land where God is waiting. Taking the realities of affliction, fear and failure seriously, Laird offers an approach to contemplative life that is within reach of us all." --Stephanie Paulsell, author of Honoring the Body: Meditations on a Christian Practice
"Martin Laird's book is a compelling introduction to contemplative prayer. He draws on insights from the Eastern Orthodox tradition of the Jesus Prayer, from the Western Carmelite tradition, from poets and novelists and from his own experience as retreat director and confessor. In the silent land, our wounds become radiant sources of compassion."--Andrew Louth, author of The Origins of the Christian Mystical Tradition: From Plato to Denys
"Into the Silent Land reflects a happy combination of wide learning, authentic spiritual experience, and clear jargon-free prose. This work should be of inestimable value for anyone interested in the Christian contemplative tradition of prayer."--Lawrence S. Cunningham, author of Thomas Merton and the Monastic Vision
About the Author
Martin Laird, O.S.A., is Associate Professor in the Department of Theology and Religious Studies at Villanova University. He has studied patristics in Rome, London, and Oxford, and has extensive training in contemplative disciplines and gives retreats throughout the United States and Great Britain. He is the translator or author of a host of books and articles, including Gregory of Nyssa and the Grasp of Faith: Union, Knowledge and Divine Presence (OUP, 2004).
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Why then only three stars? Because, despite Fr. Laird’s religious vocation (Augustinian Friar) and his learning in the writings of the Eastern Fathers, this is not a Christian book per se on prayer; it is more a guide to sanctified deconstruction the Self with the goal of apatheia of the observer. Apart from a few Biblical verses in chapter headings, taken out of context, which fail to rise even to the level of proof texts, one finds little deeper connection with the text of the New Testament or to the historical figure of Jesus Christ. The essential elements of the Christian narrative – the radical distinction between Creator and created being (fuzzy here); the indelible stain of sin (compulsive thoughts here); the need for repentance and conversion of life, the scandal of the Word made a fully human being (not Mankind), the redemptive love of his own life poured out for us on the Cross, His promise of eternal life – are all noteworthy by their absence. Perhaps they were only artifacts of the “discursive reason” that we must learn to leave behind? Hesychios and Evagrius would feel at home here. St. Paul doubtless would not. Fr. Laird recommends the use of the traditional Jesus Prayer, but another mantra might serve the purpose just as well. Except for the many references to the Orthodox Church Fathers, with minor alterations the book might easily have been written by or for someone entirely outside the Christian tradition, as the blurb above suggests. The epilogue closes with a question, “who is Jesus Christ?” left hanging in a way that invites a heterodox and ahistorical answer.
Nevertheless, the book offers an attractive mental hygiene and will have appeal alike for the prayerful Christian seeker, the student of Cognitive Psychology and the avocational mystic.
This book does teach the techniques of how to quiet your mind and prepare your body for contemplative prayer. To that extent, it made sense. The confusion entered when Fr. Laird left out the part about the actions and invitation of the Holy Spirit in contemplative prayer and our need to admit that we actually need God, not only to enter into contemplative prayer, but to become "like" Him. His explanations seemed to imply that this is all within our control - we can achieve the benefits of contemplation by following his how-to guide. While I am sure there are psychological, physical and maybe even some spiritual benefits to becoming an experienced contemplative practitioner according to Fr Laird's methods, are we actually finding God when the Holy Spirit is left out of the process? Or are we entering into a room within ourselves that is filled with mirrors, and "the silence that is the ground of all" is actually a place where we contemplate ourselves? Not sure. There was so much fuzziness about his terminology in describing 'self', 'God' and the purpose of contemplation, that I cannot honestly say whether Fr Laird wants us to believe that "I" and "God" are actually the same and that the purpose of contemplation is to tear down that barrier of perception of separateness, or whether "I" is seeking "God" in contemplative prayer and God is inviting us within Himself for the purpose of being conformed to Him? I'm not sure.
A lot of scriptures are used but none actually instructs believers to meditate in such a way. Most references are from ancient Catholic fathers, monks and ascetics.
The argument for a contemplative life is well made and well written. Instructions are provided on how to sit and how to breath as well as descriptions of progressive levels of depth - 1st door, 2nd door, 3rd door etc.
Personally I’m not convinced. I tried it and hearing myself breathing doesn’t do anything for me. I do think it is important to find a quiet place to pray. But my prayers are words and emotions, not silence, and I look upward not inward for answers.
Only by the working of the Holy Spirit are we drawn to God and not by any effort of our own. Contemplative prayer is a delight of the Christian life but we can't achieve the contemplative state on our own. We must, like Thomas Aquinas ask God to show us God. We cannot know God without asking Him to reveal Himself to us.
I am deeply disappointed in this book. A person would do far better to pray first for understanding then read the classic The Cloud of Unknowing which IS to be recommended
Don't waste your hard earned $10 on this book. It goes nowhere.