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Kim Nataraja (Ed.) Journey to the Heart: Christian Contemplation Through the Centuries

Kim Nataraja (Ed.)

Journey to the Heart: Christian Contemplation Through the Centuries

ISBN: 9781 8482 5108 3

Canterbury Press, Norwich, 2011, 352pp, £21.25

 Very simply: this book is a treasure.  Having finished a Spiritual Direction course earlier in the year I am certain that our conversations and reflections would have been deeply enriched had we had the benefit of this book, particularly if we could have used it as a textbook to dip into frequently over the year.  What makes it so special is that each of the 30 articles are based on talks about well-known mystics over the past 2000 years, from Jesus to John Main, at a ‘Roots of Christian Mysticism’ course which ran for four years under the umbrella of the World Community for Christian Meditation.

Remarkably, the authors (who include Brothers Nicholas Alan and Samuel, SSF on St Francis) manage to distill the essence of the wisdom of these mystics and contemplatives into a concise 10-15 pages each. They do this in an imaginative and inspirational way, which includes boxes highlighting the historical context, the mystic’s main writings, and/or other important figures around that time.  So the book is delightfully accessible to anyone interested in gaining more insight into the Christian contemplative tradition.

Not surprisingly, a common thread throughout the chapters was that of suffering or loss, often early in the mystic’s life.  But instead of transmitting the pain to others, these men and women embraced it with a vulnerability which enabled the transformative power of suffering to change them, enhancing their ability to be aware and awake to the pain and the beauty of the world around them and to involve themselves compassionately in it.

Although the focus was on ‘Christian Contemplatives’ I was delighted to see the inclusion of Etty Hillesum, a secular Jewish woman.  Indeed, given that so many authors acknowledged the influence and ‘lure’ of the East on their respective mystics as well as the fact that many of the world’s religions have their own contemplative traditions, perhaps there is scope for another series of lectures (and a book) which include other faiths’ mystics and contemplatives.  The contemplative tradition (‘cultivating an attitude, not a method’)  has become the ‘still point which every religion shares’ and as such, could so easily act as a significant unifying and integrative force in a twenty-first century world that appears increasingly fragmented but is nevertheless yearning for spiritual nourishment.

Nancy Adams TSSF