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Radical Prayer


by David Hassel, S.J.


Reviewed by Eileen Quinn Knight. PhD

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Although this book, Radical Prayer: Creating a welcome for God, ourselves, other people and His world, was written decades ago, it is in sync with the movement of the Catholic Church today. The author is a Jesuit who has given us careful and practical ways to pray and become a contemplative. He calls us to feel/think/pray in regard to the work of Christ and His Church.

In the Introduction, true to his Jesuit formation, he states the purpose of the book. {It is}…”to get behind all typical manifestations of prayer (for example, mental, affective, vocal, silent, contemplative, liturgical, mystical, and so on) in order to discover the root of prayer which stems and flowers into all these types”. A second purpose of the book is to describe the ‘feel’ prayer.  This makes the uniqueness of prayer apparent.

In Chapter one Hassel describes four levels of awareness On the first level we deal with the ordinary rather superficial issues such as a cold draft in the middle of winter, such as the smell of cut grass, such as a person kneeling too close to me and such as the person who tells every detail of their vacation. On the second level (the physical vital) we experience the constant pain of a migraine, the physical joy that comes with the listening to the fifth Symphony of Beethoven, or slowly mastering one’s tennis game are ways of thinking about the second level. The third level incorporates the two levels and makes them almost rhythmic. According to the author, the fourth level “is like a great underground river which, underlying the upper three levels, quietly nourishes them sustains them in their storms and blisses. Acts as the continuity (the staying power) sometimes rapid fluctuations of irritation-pleasantry, pain-pleasure and sorry-joy”. The author then gives case studies that are worth the reading. At the fourth level we experience ‘peace’ a sense of serenity. At this fourth level, we see the process of discernment occurs which occurs consolation, desolation, elation and depression. Through all this God is never far away. The discovery of ‘the peaceful river of God’s mysterious presence’.

In Chapter two brings out the sharing of one’s memories with Christ. Reminiscence establishes a person’s attitude toward people, events and things.  It is important to establish a good attitude that forms our values. This type of prayer assists the person to be more human (as Pope Francis continually calls us to do), more ready to accept the work of the Trinity within on self and become more Christ-like. This emphasis on reminiscences is the beginning of a scriptural basis for prayer. This helps focus on the discovery of the vital signs in one’s daily life.

 In Chapter three, Hassel, gives us characteristics of the prayer of Christ’s memories. The issue of surprise comes up in regard to the need for companionship, strong tenderness for a woman, quiet humor (I am from Nazareth), and a new sense of mystery. A freshness of view about a Gospel passage, a freshness of reading between the lines.  During this time, the simplicity of style grows in that Christ grows and attitudes, values and convictions are growing. When we spend this significant time with Christ, the time goes fast…it is hard to name the time we began to pray and the time we stop.  Scripture comes alive as it has never been before, the Agony in the Garden becomes a vivid understanding/feeling of Christ’s loneliness. One’s daily life becomes filled with images of Christ and we lean on Him. The image of Christ feeding others and assisting those in need are just two of the images that come to mind.

In Chapter four, the prayer of listening is very meaningful to us as we distract ourselves with so much that goes on in life.  The latest move, the latest fashion the favorite ball team are all distractions but they also produce chuckles and give us hope in remaining sane! Our society as well as Church people are afraid of quiet.  We might miss something that keeps us in an important loop. We all pray differently and progress at different rates and times.  I would say listening is a wonderful experience as God attends to us and our thoughts, needs and concerns. One of the aspects of listening prayer is to include Mother Mary.  We ask her to connect us with her son and the Holy Spirit. As a Mother myself, I appeal to her growth in Motherhood and her willingness to be patient about the growth of Jesus and her understanding of what is meant to be the Mother of Christ. At the same time we realize the strength of the conflict between the challenging programs of Christ and Satan. On one side we have the Beatitudes and on the other we have the Sadducees and others.  “Listening and waiting for the Lord to respond to the questions of the two programs will happen and will be fruitful only if the listening and waiting are occurring day-in and day-out” p. 58. The prayer of listening and waiting is a profound trust in God’s goodness, love, mercy and plans

In Chapter five, we look at the prayer of apostolic-contemplation-in-action. The prayer of welcoming Christ and His world. The power of contemplation appears in the action which it structures and directs. “Contemplation not only carries appreciation for the whole of a situation and thus renders the contemplator more wholesome but also enters into the very situation contemplated to make it more wholesome”. The author gives us 11 questions to contemplate on pages 70-71 and leads to a question of why we stretch ourselves out for others hour after hour, day after day, month after month, year after year?” Could it be that deep within us we each feel God quietly encouraging us to stretch our lives out to others?” The author offers us some marks of the contemplative in action: hope, patience, a need to be hidden in teamwork, passive alertness to others, a sense of being companioned throughout the day, a sense of an intimate providence in one’s life, a sense of belonging to God, a firm conviction of doing exactly what God wants at the moment and of not wanting to do anything else, a constant hunger to serve others, a steady sense of gratefulness to God, and finding God in others and all creatures He has created.

In Chapter six, Hassel calls us to the prayer of the indwelling Trinity: which centers in God, self and others. As a teacher, Hassel, calls us to prayerfulness by growing in the ability to listen, being more supportive with others, being somewhat more adaptable, being somewhat more sympathetic, somewhat more interested in in one’s main work, more hopeful about the young and the elderly, somewhat more confident in the use of talents/gifts, a bit more joyful and serene……and other ways to be more in the presence of God. There becomes a more constant hunger for Him. In the dryness of indwelling prayer there is solely a facing of God (a [a presenting of oneself to God and a receiving of His presence—nothing more.

In Chapter seven Hassel poses some questions to challenge us: Is not the Christ I meet in prayer somewhat different each day? When I meet the risen Christ does He not offer me all that He has gathered throughout all history and every culture? Do not my actions influence Christ make a difference not only to Him but in Him? Is there here a new dimension for one’s devotion to the heart of Christ?” These questions help to stimulate new growth in our praying and working for the Lord. This book is replete with the thoughts/feelings/prayers of Ignatian spirituality.  I would recommend it for anyone who is interested in their own prayer life, in others’ prayer life and an intimate relationship with Christ and His Church.