Book Review of Close to the Heart: a guide to personal prayer

Book Review

Close to the Heart: a guide to personal prayer, by Margaret Silf, p. cm., Published by Loyola Press, 1999, 230 pages, Paperback, $12.95, ISBN 0-8294-1452-5

Reviewed By:

John A. Cooper

mailto:john.cooper@email.shc.edu

            Years ago, while taking the 19th Annotation of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, 19th Annotation while visiting our family farm in Illinois I got up early at 5 AM as was my habit, to get in my prayer and meditation before others arose.  My aunt got up soon after me one morning and, being a devout Catholic, began to pray the Rosary. “You know,” she said, “there are many ways to pray.”  I had not thought about that before, but there certainly are many ways to pray.  Margaret Silf surveys many of those ways to pray in this book, which is a wonderful guide to prayer, but not an all-pervasive guide.  For instance, ways to pray such as sacramental prayer are mentioned little, if at all, nor is Praying the Rosary.  She writes from an Ignatian Spirituality point of view, simplified for those of us who are not experts in prayer, as if anyone were an expert in prayer.

This book in the Prayer/Spirituality genre contains a well-defined and systematic structure.  Her outline is clear and each of the four parts of the book contains a “Taking it Further” section suggesting some to-do actions that will be helpful in cementing her principles into action.  There are no footnotes, bibliography, or index, since this is book is essentially a heart to heart talk, not a scholarly treatise.  The book displays Margaret’s intriguing writing style as she opens her life to us and uses examples from her own life to illustrate the points she is making.  She is formerly a technical writer in the computer field who now writes Prayer, Spirituality, and Devotional books.  She has written more than 12 books and writes articles for America magazine.  She is not affiliated with any denomination.  A good resource for her background can be found at http://www.spiritualityandpractice.com/explorations/teachers/view/121/margaret-silf.  I recommend this book and view it as a “keeper” that one may periodically peruse when one’s prayer life might fall into a dry spell.

In her introduction, Silf affirms what my Aunt said about many ways to pray.  She says: “Remember that there are infinite ways of praying. No way is ever the right way or the only way” (Close to the Heart, p. xv).  Her purpose is to dispel fears “and to restore our confidence that God will welcome our approach” (to prayer) and “to open up pathways we may have lost” (in prayer methods) (p. xii, xiii), making prayer paths to our heart as we reach for communion with the Mystery.

Part One of her book recommends reaching stillness in our hearts, listening for God to speak to us as we enter sacred space, valuing silence, connecting with our innermost desire for God and the state of Divine union with Him.

Part Two focuses on our inner space, our hearts where God longs to be home, meditations on our own life story, and review of our day.  Also, Silf focuses on praying for others and the world, mentioning “arrow prayers,” which are short darting prayers for immediate needs. She then begins to show us how to dig in deeper, using methods that explore our soul at its core.

Part Three, “Praying with Scripture,” focuses on using the Word in prayer, “Finding God in All things,” in our personal lives, workplaces, – everywhere.  The ancient prayer method of Lectio Divina, prayer and meditation on Scripture, is discussed as well as prayers of Imagination, and Ignatian based conversational prayer with God (Colloquy).  Discussed are prayers from the dark night of our souls when things are not going well, but we still pray.  Finally, in Part Three, Unitive, or Heart Centered prayer is discussed.[1]

Part Four discusses barriers to prayer and how to handle the barriers.  What do we do with distractions?  How do we stay centered in prayer? What if God does not speak? How do we pray in the Church and with trusted spiritual friends? Should we keep a Journal?  How do we pray with and for those on the margins of society?  Such questions as this help us realize prayer is very much an open ended endeavor.

The final section, chapter 26, is “Letting Prayer Become a Way of Life” where she says “I hope that we have actually come to the end of the beginning” (p. 225).  She wants us try out in everyday life the ways to pray she has told us about, choosing the methods which best suit us.  Our prayers, she suggests, will bear fragrant fruit in our lives as they “catch the scent of God in our lives” carrying this fragrance of prayer into the world and our daily lives (p. 230).

John Cooper

[1] As an example from Part Three, in the Chapter, Conversing through Prayer – Between friends, and the very day I needed this method of prayer, which I had never heard of in my life, I had a dispute with a friend about the interpretation of a contract between each of us.  Definitely, I feel I am right, and definitely, he feels he is right.  Silf recommends: “Just let yourself be in a place, in your imagination, where you feel safe, and invite the Lord to be there with you, maybe telling him about the problem you have with this person. Then, when you feel ready, draw the person into a safe place with you, and express, through Jesus, what you are feeling.  Give the other person an opportunity to say how he or she is feeling about things.  Finally, you might turn to Jesus and ask him to share his truth and his love with you both.  Notice what suggests itself to you during this period of prayer” (p. 146).  What I heard Jesus say was, “I will give you all you need.”  I am letting the problem rest in His hands.

 

About jcooperforpeace
Peacemaker in Fellowship Engaged in Ignatian Spirituality, Active Nonviolence and Social Justice

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: