Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Martin L. Smith, The Word is Very Near You: A Guide to Praying with Scripture, 1989.

I had this book recommended to me by my spiritual director quite a space back, and on first glance, fell in love with it. I read the first chapter, thought that it was bang-on, and then school interrupted my reading. I took advantage of another educational moment to read it in its entirety, and its initial lustre seems to have faded for me.
Smith begins with a relaxed and informal introduction to what prayer can be, how it can be the placing of ourselves into a position from which we can more easily listen for the movement of the Spirit in our lives. He engages and makes sense of popular misconceptions, and attempts to de-mystify prayer while retaining a sense of its necessity and rewards.
It’s the second part of the book that disappointed me. While the ideas are sound, I found myself reacting against the book: Smith feels prescriptive as he outlines meditation, lectio divina, and contemplation as options for prayer. Unsurprisingly, he privileges stillness in a way as to make my kinetic self deeply uncomfortable.
I need to give some of his ideas a fair chance, but this book is unlikely to be the wondrous tool for merging encountering scripture and prayer together that I at first hoped it would be. I think it's likely a great book for people who are just encountering these ideas for the first time, or for whom stillness is more likely to be a rewarding part of their prayer life, than it was for me.

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