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A sunlit absence – silence, awareness and contemplation – Martin Laird

ISBN: 9780 1953 7872 6

OUP, 2011, 192pp, £11.99

For people exploring contemplative prayer, one of the best books to read is Martin Laird’s widely acclaimed “Into the Silent Land”.  This new book is its sequel.  Laird draws chiefly from the early centuries of the Church – writers such as Evagrius, Hesychios and Augustine – with John of the Cross and Teresa of Avila providing a later framework.  “A Sunlit Absence” goes further into some of the common problems or challenges of prayer: attachment to incessant thinking, boredom, and what he calls the ‘creative disintegration’ of depression.  He also looks at some of the subtler battles with pride and vainglory, and offers advice on such practical matters as the use of icons, the role of intercession and, more prosaically, how to avoid falling asleep.

The style is more informal than his first book, with a greater (perhaps too great) use of case studies.  Anyone who prays knows well enough their own pitfalls, and reading this will reveal a few more to look out for.  However, the overall tone of the book is the calm reassurance that trials are a necessary part of the process.  As he says on page 23: “..we do not have to flee from our life circumstances or from our thoughts and feelings (yet we are free to if common sense dictates).  These thoughts and feelings are themselves porous to this spacious flow [of our being in awareness]; they, too, manifest the silence we seek…”  If you have read “Into the Silent Land”, you will enjoy this sequel; if you haven’t, read it now.

Nicholas Alan SSF