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Paul Murray O.P. In the Grip of Light: The dark and bright journey of Christian Contemplation

Paul Murray OP

In the Grip of Light: The dark and bright journey of Christian contemplation

ISBN: 9781 4411 4550 5

Bloomsbury; London; 2012, 118pp, £10.99

This wonderful little book is a collection of three independent public lectures given by the author, which focus on different aspects of contemplation. It uses traditional imagery throughout, drawing from the writings of many different contemplatives (Dominican and non-Dominican alike) but remains simple and easy to understand whilst presenting the reader with a challenge. This book is therefore ideal for those desiring an introduction into the ‘why’ of contemplative life and prayer or, similarly, those wanting to reignite their interest in the subject.

The first chapter focuses upon the imagery of fire and light, but also brings in the concepts of darkness and falling in the contemplative life, creating a wonderful and realistic dynamic image of prayer. The second looks at the Cistercian Bernard of Clairvaux and the idea that true religious experience consists of both Truth and Grace. It draws significantly from his sermons on the Song of Songs and underlines the natural difficulties encountered when translating the mystical experience into the physical world. The final chapter focuses explicitly on Dominican spirituality and the experience of mystical prayer, looking at truth and joy, and drawing mainly on Tauler, Eckhart, Aquinas and Catherine of Siena.

The structure of the book, in the form of three lectures, is not ideal. The chapters are independent and therefore feel disjointed and unconnected. It would feel more comfortable if the chapters were rewritten to make the book more continuous, building on imagery. Having said that, there are certain themes which inevitably reappear throughout the book, such as the differentiation between knowledge and wisdom, and the need for perseverance in prayer.

Christopher Martin SSF