Into the Silent Land
Martin Laird “Into the Silent Land: A Guide to the Christian Practice of Contemplation” [Oxford University Press, 2006]
“Sitting in stillness, the practice of meditation, and the cultivation of awareness are commonly thought to be the preserves of Hindus and Buddhists. Martin Laird shows that the Christian tradition of contemplation has its own refined teachings on using a prayer word to focus the mind, working with the breath to cultivate stillness, and the practice of inner vigilance or awareness. But this book is not a mere historical survey of these teachings. In “Into the Silent Land”, we see the ancient wisdom of both the Christian East and West brought sharply to bear on the modern-day longing for radical openness to God in the depths of the heart.
Laird’s book is not like the many presentations for beginners. While useful for those just starting out, this book serves especially as a guide for those who desire to journey yet deeper into the silence of God. The heart of the book focuses on negotiating key moments of struggle on the contemplative path, when the whirlwind of distractions or the brick wall of boredom makes it difficult to continue. Laird shows that these inner struggles, even wounds, that any person of prayer must face, are like riddles, trying to draw out of us our own inner silence. Ultimately Laird shows how the wounds we loathe become vehicles of the healing silence we seek, beyond technique and achievement.
Throughout the language is fresh, direct, and focused on real-life examples of people whose lives are incomparably enriched by the practice of contemplation.”
Martin Laird, O.S.A., is Associate Professor in the Department of Theology and Religious Studies at Villanova University. He has studied patristics in Rome, London, and Oxford, and has extensive training in contemplative disciplines and gives retreats throughout the United States and Great Britain. He is the translator or author of a host of books and articles, including “Gregory of Nyssa and the Grasp of Faith: Union, Knowledge and Divine Presence” (OUP, 2004).
For a talk by Fr. Martin Laird – “Out of silence something is born that leads to silence itself” – see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9TEXUTyP4rI
“The doorway into the silent land is a wound. Silence lays bare this wound. We do not journey far along the spiritual path before we get some sense of the wound of the human condition, and this is precisely why not a few abandon a contemplative practice like meditation as soon as it begins to expose this wound; they move on instead to some spiritual entertainment that will maintain distraction. Perhaps this is why the weak and wounded, who know very well the vulnerability of the human condition, often have an aptitude for discovering silence and can sense the wholeness and healing that ground this wound.
There is something seductive about the contemplative path. “I am going to seduce her and lead her into the desert and speak to her heart” (Hosea 2:14), says Yahweh to Israel. It is tempting to think it is a superior path. More often, however, the seduction is to think we can use our practice of contemplation as a way to avoid facing our woundedness: if we can just go deeply enough into contemplation, we won’t struggle any longer. It is common enough to find people taking a cosmetic view of contemplation, and then, after considerable time and dedication to contemplative practice, discover that they still have the same old warts and struggles they hoped contemplation would remove or hide. They think that somewhere they must have gone wrong.
Certainly there is deep conversion, healing, and unspeakable wholeness to be discovered along the contemplative path. The paradox, however, is that this healing is revealed when we discover that our wound and the wound of God are one wound.”
Martin Laird, “Into the Silent Land: A Guide to the Christian Practice of Contemplation”