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Four Essentials

Four Essentials: Classical Disciplines of Christian Spirituality
by William Wilson
Birmingham, AL: Spiritual Life Ministry Foundation, Inc., 2004
153 pages
Reviewed by Tony Haas

“The last fifty years have been unprecedented in the United States in both the burgeoning of cults and the sudden and widespread appearance of schools of Eastern philosophy and spirituality. These movements speak of higher knowledge, illumination of consciousness, and metaphysical union with the transcendent. If we also take into account the sad historical record of false mysticism within the Christian Church, it is no wonder that many traditional Christians treat spirituality, contemplation, and mysticism with doubt and suspicion” (p. 133).

It is with this in mind that William Wilson wrote Four Essentials: Classical Disciplines of Christian Spirituality which focuses on four devotional practices or spiritual disciplines that can be used in private prayer and, simultaneously, with communal worship in a Christian community. The book is written in two parts. Part one focuses on the four essential disciplines of Lectio Divina, the Jesus Prayer, Discernment of Thoughts, and Spiritual Direction, and how they can be practiced. The second part of the book explores each topic in slightly more detail and adds a few additional essays that include topics such as: God the Word, Therapy and Spiritual Direction, and a Contemplative Spirituality of Creation.

Christians are the intended audience of Four Essentials, and in particular Protestants, who may be unfamiliar with some of the larger spiritual “essentials” of the Christian tradition. Drawing on his own personal story, which includes many years as a Trappist monk, Wilson leads the reader into the practice of contemplative spirituality and a life of union with God. Chapters four and nine will be of particular interest to spiritual directors. They deal with the goal of spiritual direction described as “the fullness of union with God in Jesus” (p. 50), the subject matter of spiritual direction, which is “the manifestation of the life of the Holy Spirit in us…what God does in us, not what we do in God” (p. 56), the role of a spiritual director as host of the directee, and the relationship between spiritual direction and the social sciences.

I also found chapter ten useful, which focused on creating a personal rule of life. Drawing on the lives of several saints, Wilson leads the reader through a process of creating a Rule which focuses on a personal mission statement, an individual’s primary relationships, personal gifts, and most heartfelt desires in life. For Christians searching for a way to integrate personal prayer, communal worship, and a life of union with God, this book could be a useful tool in making such a desire a reality.

Tony Haas is a husband, father of three girls, a part time soccer coach, on the faculty for the Center for Spirituality at Work, and the director of liturgy at Most Precious Blood Catholic Church in Denver, Colorado, USA.


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