Margaret Silf, the English author and spiritual director, has a loyal following among those steeped in Ignatian spirituality. And no surprise: she is in demand as a retreat director and workshop speaker. From what I’ve read of her prose, I’ve yet to encounter anything with the whiff of being a clunker. As a lay person, her counsel seems particularly valuable. In that sense, she is closely aligned with Saint Ignatius of Loyola, as that was his original intent: to bring the opportunity of holiness to people in everyday life.
My parish’s library contains Close to the Heart: A Guide To Personal Prayer, a fine book from the turn of the century. I’d like to recommend it for any reader who might feel that they need a start in “personal prayer,” or a renewal in it, or just some fresh ideas.
In her introduction, Ms Silf notes that …
God walked daily through the paths of paradise with his created beings. Being on intimate terms, Creator and creature engaged in heart-to-heart conversations as a matter of course.
It was fear that spoiled all this. For Adam and Eve, a fear of their inner darkness, their vulnerability, and their nakedness prevented this everyday intimacy with God.
What is the role of fear in our relationship with God? How much of a deal-breaker is it for us? How can we overcome fear and move closer to God, to enjoy those friendly conversations in the cool of the evening (or whatever time of day we set aside for the Creator)?
This book is arranged in four parts: Entering Prayer, Learning to Focus, Using the Word as Our Guide, and Stumbling Blocks and Stepping Stones. There are a total of twenty-six sections, each seven to twelve pages long. Each section offers a story, followed by some elaboration. This part reads like an excellent homily. At the end of each chapter, there is a section on “Taking it further,” which does as the title suggests. Sometimes additional reading is suggested, a book or a few Scripture passages. This is all extremely well done and very much aligned with my brief experience with Ignatian spirituality.
I don’t recommend getting this book and reading it cover to cover. It’s the kind of work one wants to take no more quickly than one chapter per day–and I think it might take some thoughtful people a week or more to put some of the author’s suggestions into good practice. Overcoming fear is important, but heavy work.
The great advantage of this book is that it will satisfy the person just beginning to take personal prayer seriously. That “Taking it further” section in each chapter contains a lot of good direction a more advanced disciple will relish. My advice is to buy it, absorb it, then pass it on to an apprentice.