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Book Review: Opening to God – "Life as Prayer"

Posted on March 11th, 2011

This past Christmas I gifted each of our staff with a copy of David Benner’s book, Opening to God: Lectio Divina and Life as Prayer. In light of our human limits, it is not possible to be excellent at everything -e.g. counseling, managing budgets, strategic planning, preaching,  casting vision. Yet if our work is provide leadership in the church of Jesus, I think prayer may be the most important area where we need to grow in excellence. What might that look like? Benner’s book gives us some very helpful clues. The following are a few of my notes from this timely book: 1. As Teresa of Avila says, the important thing in prayer is not to think much but to love much. 2. Prayer is God’s action is us. Our part is simply to allow divine love to so so transform our hearts that the love of God will spring forth as a response to love, not as the fruit of our determination. 3. Prayer is the soul’s native language…for our first parents, life was prayer. Prayer was life (i.e. communion with God). We were created to receive God’s presence and enjoy communion with Him. 4. We meet God on His terms not ours. Christ’s presence is always a hidden one even though He is in our midst (John 1:26). Moreover, the river of love we are asked to float on is often dark. 5. There is a knowing of God that is only possible in stillness and silence, i.e. by integrating the contemplative side of prayer. His breakdown and guidelines of the four movements of lectio divina are worth the price of the book – Lectio (Prayer as attending), Meditatio (Prayer as pondering), Oratio (Prayer as responding) and Contemplatio (Prayer as being). 6. We do not pray so that we can get God’s attention. We pray so that God will get our attention…so that our attentiveness increases. 7. Contemplative prayer is wordless, trusting openness to the God who dwells at the center of our being and at the center of the world.  It is “resting in God” (Gregory the Great) and “seeing through exterior things, and seeing God in them” (Thomas Merton). 8. When someone is in love, words become less and less necessary. Lovers learn to just be with each other. This is exactly the way we can be with God.  Intimacy demands that talk be balanced by attentive openness in silence.  This is contemplation in its simplest and purest form. 9. Prayer is friendship with Jesus (Jn. 15:15). This conscious knowing of God’s presence in love is the ground of ceaseless prayer. Slowly this seeps into the unconscious so we no longer need to be conscious of God’s presence to know in some deep place that we are in communion with our Beloved all the time. Contemplative prayer is the major way in which this seeping into the unconscious occurs. Do you think it is realistic to expect leaders/pastors to be “excellent in prayer” with all the other expectations on us? What might have to change?

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Church Culture Revolution: A 6-Part Vision That Deeply Changes Lives