Circles of Silence: Explorations In Prayer With Julian Meetings

Llewelyn, Robert (ed)
Longman & Todd (1994)
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Circles of Silence is a collection of very short essays and poems to celebrate the 21st anniversary of Julian Meetings which began in 1973 in response to an ecumenical need for contemplative prayer as part of Christian worship. If you are unfamiliar with this kind of prayer and wish to study it or, more important, to practice it (none of us will ever be perfect), this book is an excellent introduction, written in clear, simple English. It contains very little jargon and is faultlessly constructive.

It naturally begins with an account of the Julian Meeting movement and the approaches of some of its founders to contemplative prayer and the book's core content is a series of articles on various approaches to prayer: how difficult it is; how to invoke silence; what great contemplatives have told us about their methods; Evensong down the telephone; speaking in tongues; how prayer relates to family crises; the role of prayer in healing; and the use of the Rosary.

For reasons which are implicit, the book contains many fine vignettes of places of pilgrimage including Lourdes, Walsingham, Medjugorje, St. Gervais de Paris, Little Gidding, Iona, Taize, Lindisfarne, Pleshey, Bec,  Compostela and, of course, Julian's cell at Norwich.

Topics and people include poetry, the visual arts, Bach, Thomas a Kempis, Theresa of Avila, John of the Cross, the Frink Madonna, ecology, George Herbert and Evelyn Underhill, with a very fine but long essay on Thomas Merton by Kenneth Leech.

This book isn't ideal for continuous reading. I used it as my Autumn daily dipper. Ideally you need 20 minutes, half for reading and half for praying. It does not provide a sequenced course attempting to help you to become ever more adept but it might just help to provide openings for further work.

The only weakness of the book is its poetry. Writing spiritual poetry is notoriously difficult and best left to poets like Herbert, Traherne and Done, T. S. Eliot and W.H. Auden. I found almost all of it unhelpful at best. If you want religious poetry try Donald Davie's New Oxford Book of Christian Verse.