Book Review: "Opening to God"
I became familiar with David Benner while reading his book Sacred Companions on the subject of spiritual friendship and also his work with Gary Moon editing the book Spiritual Direction and the Care of Souls. Benner's background in psychology and his serious and authentic exploration of Christian spirituality make both these books beautiful and helpful. I picked up Opening to God with the same interest and was not disappointed. Benner's main purpose in writing this book is to bring the reader to a place of understanding four basic roles that prayer plays in our lives - attending, pondering, responding, and being. Through the pages of this well-written work, he introduces the reader the concept of "openness to God" as the key to prayer. For Benner,
Most of us live most of our lives somewhere between the extremes of being completely closed to God and completely open...Opening (to God) implies not just a position, but a direction - a direction of movement toward full openness. (12)
Prayer then is not the sum of the words we say, the amount of time we spend, or the methods we use in order to communicate to God - Benner's thought is that prayer becomes the extent to which and willingness we have to open ourselves fully and completely to God.
The book moves a bit quick through some complex terms, so anyone not familiar with certain classical prayer practices may need to take an extra moment or two when reading to pause and do some research. However, the two key insights in this book are the use of lectio divina ("divine" or "sacred reading") and a way of prayer called "welcoming prayer." In welcoming prayer, we show hospitality to the negative emotions that come along with trying situations in our lives, and instead of being slaves to them they become powerless as we embrace them and then release them.
I highly recommend this book to anyone who's working through a tough time in their life of prayer, as it breathes new life and gives fresh perspectives to many of the common challenges we all face.