In 1967, Thomas Merton traveled to Thailand, seeking to further the Buddhist-Christian dialogue that was his passion. This beloved Trappist monk and explorer of the inner life died unexpectedly on that trip, but not before writing a final letter to his brothers at the Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky. In the letter Merton wrote that he now realized that everything he had been searching for could be found at his own hermitage, within the Christian tradition.
It is in this spirit, with respect for all faiths, that James Finley offers Christian Meditation, an audio retreat about the fundamental practices at the heart of Christianity's own unique meditation tradition.
Beyond the Closed Horizon of the Ego
Since the time of the Desert Fathers in the third century, Finley begins, Christian mystics have practiced meditation as a way of opening to the direct presence of God in daily life. Legendary seekers such as Saint John of the Cross, Saint Teresa of Avila, and Meister Eckhart explored how meditation can lead us beyond the closed horizon of the ego, to an interior and holy refuge that is always available to us. In Christian Meditation, James Finley offers a gentle introduction to this all-transforming way of life and the ever-deepening realization of oneness with Christ it leads us to.
Enter the Cloud of Unknowing
Beginning with an overview of the Christian contemplative tradition and its historical roots, and complete with step-by-step instructions about how to progress in your own practice, Finley offers a personal retreat experience for you to practice along with at your own pace. In 12 complete sessions and more than seven hours of basic instruction with the beginner in mind, James Finley guides you along this path of awakening in order to glimpse the infinite union that holds the secret of who we really are.
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The keyword that sits in my mind after reading this book is "brokenness". This is the entire key to why I do not rate this book so highly.
Contents: He has some good contents about the techniques of Christian meditation. I especially liked the idea of meditation on Jesus' eyes, and the in-outbreath "I love you" relay with God. If this were the entire contents, the book would probably be 1, at most 2 hours, and I would have given it 5 stars.
However, there is a lot more contents, and I must admit I was seeking Thomas Merton #2, and James Finley isn't. Finley's approach is not the direct God-seeking of Merton, but is rather a lot about existential psychotherapy and our "brokenness". While it is by all means important to recognise and accept brokenness, it seems to be the All for Finley, and the conclusion. I can't escape the feeling that an existentialist Jesus would have let the Samaritan stop by the wayside and let the mugged man really feel seen and realised in his brokenness, before moving on, with no healing. Accept brokenness, but do not heal it. Man does not become part of God's creation (the way they do with Merton), but merely stay small, broken worms whose only little measure of salvation is to realise that the are small and that they are broken.
Performance: Finley did the reading himself, and he sounds like a broken man. There was no energy to the steps of his reading, and even reading at this slow pace, you could hear the wobble of his inbreaths, as if he was nervous or not happy. I also tried speeding this up to 1.35, which worked fine, but he still sounds depressed, only at a higher speed.
And Mr Finley, if you are reading this: know that I write this with the greatest of love, and truly hope you will find more hope and energy. And I do heartily thank you for the meditation on the eyes of Jesus.
- Svein Olav Nyberg