Sunday, July 20, 2008

TAKING GOD TO HEART (Brian Gallagher)

Review: Taking God to Heart, by Brian Gallagher MSC, St Pauls 2008.

When our family returned home in 1983 after a couple of years in North America, I had two important questions to ask my friends: 'Who is reputed to be the most discerning Spiritual Director in Melbourne? And who's the best teacher of Spiritual Direction here?' A name for each emerged, and (cheekily) I asked one to be my Director, and audited a course by the other!

The course was taught by Brian Gallagher at the Catholic Yarra Theological Union. He had just set up the Heart of Life Spirituality Centre, and he impressed me as someone who had his feet firmly on the ground, while being an authentic person, and pray-er, and a keen student about how humans relate to God.

'Taking God to Heart', writes Father Gallagher is not primarily about Spiritual Direction, though a lot of Brian's approach to this classical discipline is here. It's also not about prayer as such, but about authentic living - including being 'truly present' for others. So the most-repeated 'mantra' is Dom John Chapman's well-known advice 'Pray as you can, not as you can't' (see the Wikipedia article on Chapman for more).

Prayer is about life ('church is the place you go out from' as Martin Luther King said famously). We experience down times, but we can learn (from John of the Cross and others) that such darkness in our relationship with God can be a gift of grace. 'God's presence is not defined by our feeling such presence.' In our busyness, too, many of us have to learn that 'silence is the language of God.'

Brian Gallagher's teachers come from many traditions. A random search (eg. pp. 38-39) has him quoting Thich Nhat Hanh, Jean-Paul de Caussade, Abraham Heschel, and H A Williams - a Buddhist, a Jesuit, a Jew, and an Anglican. He reproduces the famous Australian poet and environmentalist Judith Wright's poem 'Grace', with its evocative last two lines: 'Maybe there was once a word for it. Call it grace/I have seen it, once or twice, through a human face' (p. 70).

Brian Gallagher loves the idea of 'God at work in everyone/everywhere': 'The minister's role is to help people to recognize the God already present and active, to awaken people to the gift they already have' (p. 71). But he's also a traditionalist in some ways: 'Spiritual directors... need to be aware of the work of God's Spirit and any spirits not of God in their own lives, if they are to ensure that their own unfreedoms do not affect their listening to others' (p. 72).

I now will go away to a solitary place and read this wonderful little book a fourth time.

Rowland Croucher
July 2008.


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