Books acknowledge our call to intimacy with God

Published February 1, 2005

These two books on Jesus’ vision of the kingdom bring an intriguing and complementary perspective to the Christian journey.

Rev. Christopher Page, a well-known priest in the diocese of British Columbia, brings a new perspective to a study of the Beatitudes and the Lord’s Prayer. As someone who is deeply committed to the practice of contemplative prayer, Mr. Page finds in these central teachings of Jesus a way into the heart of relationship with God.

Christ Wisdom is divided into two discrete but related parts – one on the Beatitudes and one on the Lord’s Prayer – tied together by a focus on Jesus as “the incarnation of God’s loving Wisdom.” Each section is divided into short chapters (one on each Beatitude, and one on each phrase of the Lord’s Prayer) with an emphasis on how they lead us into a deeper relationship with God – the goal of our human life. “Our primary purpose in life,” writes Mr. Page, “is not to do good works or to measure up to some standard of behaviour, but to learn to rest in eternal communion with God and to live from that place of deep trust and faith.”

One of the strengths of Mr. Page’s book is the way he pulls the reader into the core of Jesus’ teaching. Jesus, he writes, “teaches spiritual practices with the power to bring us to the place where we understand that those things which unite us in the fellowship of God’s children are greater than those things which divide us.”

Those spiritual practices are founded on the assumption that personal contemplative prayer is essential to deepening communion within the Christian church. Each chapter ends with suggestions for reflection and prayer. I found this part of each chapter the least helpful – not because the questions are not provocative and generative, but because they often assume too much about what the reader already knows about spiritual practices. For instance, in the chapter on unconditional forgiveness, Mr. Page suggests, “Identify a hurt in your life, a person or situation that causes you pain. See how this situation has emerged from the hurt in the other person’s life or in your own life. Allow your heart to soften towards that person or yourself.”

This is excellent advice in helping a person get “unstuck” from past wounds. But it can set up the expectation that dealing with such hurts is easier and faster than in fact it is.

Because Mr. Page’s book is so rich in its focus on spiritual practices as embedded in the teachings of Jesus, and because the reflection questions are so challenging, I would see this book used most helpfully with a prayer group or other small group – preferably with a facilitator.

Philip Mathias is well qualified to write a book on searching for the kingdom of God. A long-time journalist, he has focused much of his previous writing on issues of economic development and corporate / governmental responsibility. He brings therefore a unique perspective to the “kingdom prayer” of Jesus, by his very lively, colourful writing style.

In The Perfect Prayer, Mr. Matthias writes of people (Gloria Daysi Alonzo Jaimes of El Salvador) and groups (the Afghans) in the context of their struggle for the kingdom. He wrestles down major theological issues: “Why do so many conflicting snapshots of the one true God turn up through the ages?” He integrates many of Jesus’ stories and parables, as well as events from the Old Testament. In short, Mr. Mathias gives us a vision of the kingdom which is dynamic, comprehensive, and engaging. He uses Jesus’ kingdom prayer to make us want to pray and work for the kingdom.

Mr. Mathias’ book is the perfect complement to Mr. Page’s. The Christian life is a call to intimacy with God and out of that relationship of love, a call to work for the coming of the reign of God. While both writers acknowledge this dual call, Mr. Page’s book focusses on the Beatitudes and Lord’s Prayer as the basis of that contemplative intimacy with God; Mr. Mathias’ focuses on our engagement in the world as we work for the kingdom.

Both books deserve the attention of all Christians who are committed to living out their baptismal covenant by “continuing in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread and in the prayers” and “striving for justice and peace among all people.”

Sister Constance Joanna Gefvert is reverend mother of the Sisterhood of St. John the Divine and is based at St. John’s Convent in Toronto.


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