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Intimacy in Prayer

Intimacy in Prayer: Wisdom from Bernard of Clairvaux
complied by Ephrem Arcement, OSB
Boston, MA: Pauline Books & Media, 2013
104 pages
Reviewed by Greg Richardson

Intimacy in Prayer: Wisdom from Bernard of Clairvaux is the latest in Pauline Books and Media’s Classical Wisdom Collection. Each book in the collection focuses on a central theme from the writings of a person from Christian church history and compiles significant quotations that address the theme. Earlier books in the collection have highlighted Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, and Catherine of Siena, among others.

The foreword gives background information about Bernard of Clairvaux. He was born in 1090 and entered the monastery of Citeaux at the age of twenty-four, bringing with him his brothers, an uncle, and several of his friends. Within three years, Bernard was sent with a small band of monks to establish a new monastic community at Clairvaux. He served as the abbot at Clairvaux for thirty-five years, during which there was a great deal of struggle and searching for the truth within monastic orders. He contributed to the establishment of new monastic communities and the resolution of challenging conflicts. “Sometimes he fills us with rapture by communication of his light, sometimes he adapts himself to our weakness and sends beams of light into the dark about us. But whether we are raised above ourselves or left with ourselves, let us stay always in the light, always walk as children of the light” (30).

Bernard was instrumental in reemphasizing lectio divina and contemplation of scripture in monastic communities. Intimacy in Prayer focuses on his eighty-six sermons on the Song of Songs. Bernard’s words shine insightful light on the spiritual truths communicated in the Song of Songs. Using imagery that could have been written last week, Bernard opens the scriptural descriptions of love and applies them to the ways we lovingly relate to God, “Let love enkindle your zeal, let knowledge inform it, let constancy strengthen it. Keep it fervent, discreet, courageous. See it is not tepid, or temerarious, or timid. See for yourself if those three commands are not prescribed in the law when God says: ‘You shall love the Lord your God with your whole heart, your whole soul and your whole strength’” (35).

Bernard clearly writes from a Christian perspective that is rooted in history. Although his intended readers are monastic men and women of nearly a thousand years ago, his insights and images are often fresh, while the language in which he writes is grounded in his time. A noted spiritual director, teacher, and leader of his time, Bernard’s writings offer insight into prayer and intimacy with God for spiritual directors and their spiritual directees. Intimacy in Prayer is an excellent beginning to explore his writings and ideas. Spiritual directors will find this book relatively short and easy to read, pointing the way toward more comprehensive compilations of Bernard’s writing. “Consider how great is the grace of intimacy which results from this encounter of the soul and the Word, and how great the confidence which follows this intimacy!” (69).

Greg Richardson is a spiritual director and leadership coach in Pasadena, California, USA. He is also a lay oblate with New Camaldoli Monastery near Big Sur, California.

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