Landscapes of Prayer, Finding God in Your World and Your Life by Margaret Silf, Lion Hudson plc, Oxford, UK, 2011, pp.90.
It snowed today, and for the first time this month there was a still, white world awaiting first light. I found it a perfect ambience for prayerful reflection. In a similar way, Landscapes of Prayer offers a rich opportunity to use landscapes both familiar and remote as locations into which one might situate oneself to “find God in your world and your life.” A wealth of evocative photos accompanies each chapter, — glimpses of gardens, woodlands, expanses of sea and mountains form background and encouragement for sitting or standing in absorbed prayerfulness.
Initially, I may have been taken in because the first chapter is entitled “Garden,” and the photos were lovely. I would not have been misled, however. Margaret Silf has a remarkable skill for using metaphor, and one can fancy oneself as a live feature of the garden as well as an observer peering in. In much the same manner, the surf lapping the seashore can represent one’s own life, just as beachcombing is used to describe one’s “review of the day” known as the Examen. The author’s own acute awareness of place and the levels of its created existence in relation to human life reaches out and grasps our own attention whether we have visited that place or can only imagine what it might be like. Often enough she recounts her own experience in a particular place, the Sinai Desert for example, as an offering which can provoke multiple responses, linking our own desert experiences and their challenges with those of the pilgrims on that strenuous climb. (And yes, not all deserts are flat.) Each scene offers an invitation and an encouragement.
Despite its size, this little volume is not meant to be read straight through at a single sitting, nor even in a single day. It is meant to be savored, mulled over, put down and picked up again after a pause for a moment of prayer or even for several moments. Each chapter ends with a paraphrased Scripture passage followed by a half dozen or so points, — questions as well as suggestions, - to support continued mindfulness beyond the moment of reflection. The last photo in the book is an “Easter moment,” an aurora borealis in all its glory, saying even better than words, “Christ our Light.”
A few years back, I encountered Margaret Silf in the pages of “America Magazine.” There was something about her very ordinary grasp of the extraordinary in the lives of those she knew and the way those lives fit into the goodness of God that I found particularly appealing. From time to time, she continues to bless us with her faith.
Maureen F, McDermott