Reviewed by John Cowan
We have here a Christian author, a monk no less, who makes sense while teaching contemplation. In my opinion his thinking is hindered by an unlikely theology, but Martin appears to have had true experiences which experiences root him in the truth. He writes in a cascading pile of gems, tested by his experience, and tested by the experience of Christian mystics over the centuries. Let me drop a few gems on you, haphazardly selected, then you decide if you want to read this book.
Martin says that St. Hesychios sees the starting place of contemplation at the moment we first sit down and are overwhelmed with all the inner noise. He says to start observing the noise makers one by one until they go away. Then we will be contemplatives. That might take decades, or seconds. Much of the time will be observing what a miserable human being we are. But it can be done. Martin provides a detailed explanation of how to begin. For you struggling to figure this puzzle out try Chapter One.
For a snapshot of what contemplation feels like after a little facility is gained try this: “The contemplative’s stance is not one of being swept down the river along with everything else. … It constantly receives all coming from upstream and while at the very same moment releasing all downstream.”
“Awareness is another name for silence itself.” I think maybe I understand that. It is embedded in a lengthy discussion of the use of the Jesus prayer, which practice is not to my liking, but maybe to yours. As I said, the guy is Christian monk and sheds light on corners most of my reading does not cover. A benefit. And trying, (bad word but…) to live this for a moment seems to raise up this awareness-that-is-silence to a broader, more encompassing state than I normally allow myself. It wakens me to a profounder self.
The Psalmist said, “In your light, O Lord, we see light.” Martin continues: “This is the liberating, rich poverty of contemplation: our practice is reduced to the sheer simplicity of Light shining in light.” The deepest experience of silence, awareness, and contemplation is a sunlit absence. Only someone who lives there can tell you that.
Neat little book, eight inches by four, 192 pages. Nice to look at. Maybe I will read it again. It is loaded. Cheers me up, greatly.