I had the opportunity last month to become a member of the Ooze Select Blogger network. If you aren’t familiar with The Ooze, just click here. I enjoy many of the articles and discussions that take place over there. I’ll admit I’ve had less time than I’d like during the semester to keep up to date, but I digress. As part of this network, I receive books to review, which is an absolutely incredible thing. The first book review that I’m doing as part of this blogger network is A Short and Easy Method of Prayer by Madame Jeanne Marie Bouvier de La Motte Guyon. Now, the question is: does this book have anything going for it beyond the incredibly cool name of the author?
The answer is: sorta. First, any reader needs to keep in mind that this is a translation of the original French. Beyond that the original book was written in the 17th century, so to say that it is legacy would perhaps be an understatement. I’ve developed an interest in reflective practices over the past several years. In that regard, Madame Guyon’s book serves as a decent introduction to contemplative prayer. She has several absolutely pithy statements throughout the book. One of these is plastered on the back cover: “Prayer is the application of the heart to God, and the internal exercise of love.”
I found myself vacillating as I read the book as to whether or not it was worth reading. Ultimately I came to the conclusion that it is worth reading as an introduction to contemplative prayer, though perhaps that really isn’t the correct designation as she advocates a complete ceasing, and normally contemplative prayer, although advocating ceasing, at least begins with some type of contemplation of, er, something. There are a few things I do disagree with strongly:
1. She likes the internal a bit more than I do. That is to say, I think reason and contemplation work together, hand in hand, each informing the other. Madame Guyon would like us very much to throw reason out the window, or so it would seem. Take for instance, this comment, “Compose catechisms particularly to teach prayer, not by reasoning nor by method, for the simple are incapable thereof; but to teach the prayer of the heart, not of the understanding; the prayer of God’s Spirit, not of man’s invention.” Strong words indeed! Words that I fundamentally disagree with. I think the heart and understanding, reason and contemplation, can — indeed must! — work hand in hand as we live our lives. I think it is simply wrong to draw such a strong dichotomy between the head and the heart.
2. She was thrown into prison shortly after this work was originally completed. Normally that would be an almost immediate “buy it yesterday” in my book. However, my guess is that she was thrown into prison for her views on union with God. Those views are, shall we say…interesting. To be concise, Madame Guyon basically says we need to get rid of our own soul and be filled with God’s. To some extent I agree. We do need to give up ourselves, and in so doing allow the Holy Spirit to mold and shape us into the image of Jesus Christ. However, I got the feeling that Guyon didn’t mean what I want her to mean — though I could be wrong.
I need to mention some of the positives of the book though. Not because I’m required to, but because I think that some really do exist. For starters, the manuscript really encourages the reader to rest. To just stop being, stop doing, and rest in God. I think there are few things that the American church needs more than learning to stop and rest in God (I suppose one of those things would be getting a bit of that “reason” and “understanding” that Madame Guyon dislikes). For that bit alone the book is worth about half the Amazon price. She also has a section that is insightful in regards to confession. It’s almost, though not quite, insightful enough to make up the rest of the Amazon price.
Ultimately, should you buy this book? Eh. That depends entirely on what you’d like to read. If you’ve an interest in contemplative prayer or 17th Century French mystics, than sure. But if you already have a basic idea of what contemplative prayer entails, there are probably better books out there to purchase.