Journeying through Distraction; ‘The Joy of Coming Home
(A Lectio Divina for Christian Meditation)
By Christopher Mendonca
Published by: Claretian Publications, Bengaluru; ISBN: 978-81-89851-52-1; Price: Rs 250/-; Available in Mumbai at: Tej Prasarini, Don Bosco Communications, Shrine of Don Bosco, Matunga; St Paul's Publications, Bandra; St Blaise Church, Amboli, Andheri; Faith Centre Book Stall c/o O.L of Lourdes Church, Orlem, Malad. (e-mail: email@example.com)
It took me time to read the sixty reflections in this book. It took me more time to reflect on the rich treasures contained therein. It will take me a little more than a lifetime to absorb and assimilate, enter into, explore, enjoy and experience these treasures. I can honestly confess that when I had finished reading and reflecting on this spiritual classic by Christopher Mendonca (which I am both honoured and humbled to attempt to review), I felt like a worm in front of a dragon! And if you find the Welsh dragon too terrifying, I saw myself as a drop in the ocean, only to be gently reminded that the ocean is in the drop.
The book is divided into two parts—Journeying through Distraction and The Joy of Coming Home. Each of the sixty Reflections has a title that aptly enunciates the subject. This is followed by a brief citation from John Main, Laurence Freeman and the teachings on the practice of Meditation that appositely expands the title. The subsequent reflection appropriately elaborates the citation. The title, the citation and the reflection arrest the reader's attention, somewhat like a ramp on the road that makes the traveller slow down, if not stop and check the direction, as well as the speed at which he is journeying. Each of the Reflections is an independent complete unit by itself, giving the reader an opportunity to dip and delve into the book without following any sequential order.
A meditator and teacher of Meditation in the Christian Tradition as part of the World Community of Christian Meditation (WCCM), Christopher Mendonca understandably has a contemplative approach as he deals with the biblical characters in this work. He has, over the years, cultivated the difficult art of writing simultaneously with simplicity and depth. Whether it is Abraham or David, Moses or Job, Jeremiah or Jonah, John the Baptist or Simeon, Mary or Joseph, or any of the individuals touched and transformed by Jesus during His earthly ministry, the author has an engaging style that makes the reader pause, ponder and pray, not so much providing answers, but raising questions. The soliloquies dealt with in this book have a touch of class. They are astounding and amazing. How the author has so deftly and delicately woven himself into the minds and hearts of personages like the rich young man, the woman with the haemorrhage, the faithful son, Mary Magdalene, John the Evangelist and others, as to speak to us from within each of them, can only be explained as the fruit of prolonged personal prayer. In this respect, these soliloquies are intensely insightful and inspiringly intuitive.
There are some scintillating spiritual gems that sparkle in this book, as when the author states in Reflection 12 – 'The God who forgives': "It is when we deserve love least that the Lord loves us most." Or again, in Reflection 14, dwelling on the mystery of suffering in the book of Job – 'From understanding to mystery; argument to experience' - he writes: "God cannot be fully grasped. We must be willing to be grasped by Him instead." The book has not a few such purple poetic patches which, even from the literary point of view, are masterpieces. Christopher Mendonca has a facile pen, and with the turn and twist of the phrase makes thoughts linger in the mind of the reader, as in Reflection 41 – 'Not dead, only asleep' - wherein he states: "...there is sweetness in the cane even as it is being crushed."
This book is the fruit of contemplative prayer in which the author has matured over the years, and leads to contemplative prayer in which words become obstacles, because our deepest desires in prayer are best expressed in wordless communion. Silence is God's language. A silent God can only speak to a silent heart. Genuine prayer, because it begins and ends with God, can only begin and end with silence. Words, if any, which emerge from silence do not disturb, but only deepen the silence. The leitmotif in this book, through all the reflections, leads the reader in prayer to descend from the mind to the heart, for the mind may teach us what we think, but the heart tells us where we are. The author subtly guides us to listen with the heart and to see with the inner eye.
We buy books and, having read them, give them away. This is not a book to be given away. It must be treasured for a lifetime and handed over to the next generation. It challenges us to become contemplatives and live lives more fully. Contemplation makes us enjoy God, howsoever we understand Him, in the here and now of everyday things. I like to think of this work as a sourcebook, both for beginners as well as proficients, for profound personal prayer. And to avail of the paradoxical title of the book, through these reflections, Christopher Mendonca shows us how it is precisely by journeying through distraction that we experience the joy of coming home.
MSGR ALEX REBELLO