Disciplines of the saints

Published March 1, 2000

WITH THE growing interest in new-age spiritualities, it is refreshing to see Christians rediscovering the spiritual riches of our own tradition.

Unfortunately the insights of the saints have been largely inaccessible to us, either because they are to be found in rare tomes, or because the mystical nature of their discourse is hard for us to understand. But Mark Harris has proved himself a reliable guide in this priceless library, and his own modest contribution to its holdings might be just the introduction you need this Lent to deepen your own spiritual journey.

Harris fashions 12 chapters around 12 spiritual companions, ranging from Origen in the 3rd century to Evelyn Underhill in the 20th. He groups them according to the two directions of our journey: inward and outward. The inner journey is facilitated by the likes of John of Ruysbroeck, who speaks of Christ’s “second comings” in our hearts on a daily basis; and Bernard of Clairvaux, whose meditations on the love of God offer us a perspective on the love of self, quite at odds with the contemporary idolatry of the self.

The outer journey contemplates our relationships with others, and features challenging chapters on “loving the unlovable” (based on the writings of the eccentric Margery Kempe), and on “caring for the creation” which looks to Celtic saints for guidance.

Sandwiched between these two motions is a selection addressing obstacles on the way (spiritual dryness, prayerlessness, temptation and discouragement.)

This book is both practical and inspirational. It was good to be reminded that conversion “is not a moment, but a movement,” and that it is not a movement upwards without being first a movement downwards as God takes initiative in our lives. The book comes with discussion questions and would make an excellent resource for Lenten study.

Stephen Andrews is Dean of Saskatchewan and Rector of St. Alban Cathedral in Prince Albert.


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