Soul at Rest

It’s been four weeks.

Week One: I prayed in the car, since visiting the South means visiting relations. Via car.

Week Two: I embarked on my busiest two weeks since seminary. When I wasn’t pulling all-nighters, I prayed in the darkness as I waited for my two-year-old’s sleep to return.

Week Three: Tricia McCary Rhodes said it wasn’t enough to snatch prayers. I needed a regular time and place to make a habit. I informed God that if he wanted to be still with me, he should administer some holy anesthetic to induce a regular nap in Violet.

Week Four: I’m recognizing a trend. If I go directly to the red chair and begin “to devote” as soon as she’s in bed, the daughter naps. I can remember only two days when she has not. I’m recognizing a correlation. Prayer has much to do with sleep or the lack thereof.

Week Two: (No. I’m not so sleep-deprived that I’ve forgotten how to count.) I decided to obey Rhodes’ book to re-awaken my own habits of prayer. She sets each chapter in five-day weeks. I’m still in week two.

Four weeks ago I promised to tell you more about Tricia McCary Rhodes and her book The Soul at Rest: A Journey into Contemplative Prayer, which I read a while ago. (Reading is different than obeying.) 

Rhodes’ approach is one of a spiritual director, starting the directee at a very basic, non-threatening level. She asks the reader to think through each piece of forming a habit: passion, time, place, plan, and commitment.

Assuming that the reader embarks on a slow project, she divides her book into days and weeks. The weekly topics increase in difficulty, beginning with meditation and moving into Scripture, listening, recollection, detachment, the dark night, and contemplation.

She breaks down the exercises themselves, so that each rung of the lectio divina ladder, for example, has its own day, with a good dose of imagination prayer interspersed.

On the other hand, she declines to use the ancient (often Latin) terminology. Instead of “examen,” she leads the reader through something she calls “recollective prayer,” which has many of the same elements.

She peppers her thoughts with lines from the ancients (and others) and with Scripture. However, she rarely quotes a whole passage, expecting her readers to go fetch their Bibles and look up the verses to which she directs them. At heart, this is a devotional, even a Bible study, since a majority of Rhodes’ practice sections begin with reading a Scripture.

She is highly Evangelical. In addition to leading with Scripture, she addresses audience concerns about the similarities between New Age or Eastern religion’s practices and the ones in her book. Unfortunately, it’s unclear where Eastern Orthodoxy fits in (or out).

Rhodes turns a quality phrase, demonstrates a wise understanding of how it is to be a Christian in our day, keeps her chapters short, and writes specifics into her exercises so that the reader knows what to expect. Finally, the book is very practical, making suggestions about sleepiness, distraction, and unsavory thoughts.

If what you want is an introduction to the deep habit of prayer, The Soul at Rest is the best book I’ve looked at so far.

If that is what you want. What do your dreams of rest look like?

At the moment, mine are shaped like a bed.

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