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Posted August 22, 2006

Book: Christian Spirituality: Themes from the Tradition
Authors: Lawrence S. Cunningham and Keith J. Egan
Paulist Press. NY. 1996. Pp. 216

An Excerpt from the Jacket:

Christian Spirituality is a reader-friendly overview of the ways Christians over the centuries have approached God in prayer and practice. In ten chapters, the authors explains the dynamics of spiritual life – each chapter exploring a single theme such as scripture, journeying, meditation & contemplation, asceticism, mysticism, solitude & community, friendship, Eucharist. The themes are not mutually exclusive, since believers frequently embrace several or all these “ways” at once. But in different times and places people have tended to focus on one or another, so that they have become discernible paths to the holy.

An Excerpt from the Book:

Paradoxes fill the days of the hermit, and Merton discovered that solitude is a place where these paradoxes become manifest. Emptiness for the sake of fullness, language that imposes silence, solitude that is neither practical nor useful, and solitude, that is, in fact , a sharing in the life of God and of one’s neighbors ar some of the paradoxes noted by Merton. For anyone who seeks solitude for a day, a weekend or a lifetime, Thomas Merton’s advice is apropos: “Do not flee to solitude from community. Find God first in the community, then he will lead you to solitude.”

Like hermits of old, Merton suggests that one turn in solitude to the psalms: “The Psalms are the true garden of the solitary and the scriptures are his paradise.” is not solitude also a place where one learns what everyone on the spiritual journey must learn: all of life and love are gift? That was Merton’s conviction: “The great work of the solitary life is gratitude.” Merton expressed his most cherished convictions in poetry. Here he sang of solitude:

If you seek a heavenly light
I, solitude, am your professor.

. . . . . . . .

For I, Solitude, am thine own self:
I, Nothingness, am thy All.
I, Silence, thy Amen!

A modern theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, writing about community, devoted a chapter to “The Day Alone,” where he shared this conviction about solitude: “One who wants fellowship without solitude plunges into the void of words and feelings, and one who seeks solitude without fellowship perishes in the abyss of vanity, self-infatuation, and despair.” Bonhoeffer adds: “Let him who cannot be alone beware of community.”

Table of Contents:

1. Christian spirituality

2. Hearers and doers of the Word

3. The spiritual journey

4. Prayer

5. Meditation and contemplation

6. Asceticism

7. Living in the presence of God: the way of the mystics

8. Solitude in community

9. Friendship

10. Eucharist: source and summit of the Christian life