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Courtney Vallejo reviews a new book on prayer and how it informs our behavior.

The first thing that caught my attention about the book Contemplative Enigmas was the front cover image. It displays an image of a long corridor in what I would imagine to be a monastery. It drew me in and begged me to journey down the path to the destination of contemplation to which it promised.

I admit the word enigma struck me and I desired to know the exact definition of a word I’d encountered in a variety of settings. Finding that the definition is: a person or thing that is mysterious, puzzling, or difficult to understand, fit seemingly perfect for the tagline promising “Insights and Aid on the Path to Deeper Prayer.”

Prayer sometimes eludes me. What is it really? What should it be? Is it a conversation among friends, a moment of adoring my King, an opening to Heaven, which the eye cannot see but the heart can feel?

Fr. Donald Haggerty does not disappoint.Contemplative Enigmas is broken up into numerous paragraph-type sections. Each section is filled with such deep theological thought that I felt as if I could only read one section (equating to about one page) before my brain was filled with enough to spend a day unpacking in my soul.

contemplative enigmas

Saintly quotes are dispersed throughout to add to the richness of the topic. Quotes that struck my heart, such as St. Jerome saying “the desert loves to strip bare.”

Although the basis of the book is meant to address prayer, it is not just about prayer. As our faith is interconnected and has layers of richness, so does this book. I was grateful for the ways it also reminded me of our call to be a personal gift to each other and the obedience that it requires from us. Fr. Haggerty invites us to contemplate ourselves, our behaviors, our prayers, and various other facets in our lives. He calls us to respond to the nudging in our hearts to leap into the love of Christ and to delve deeper into our faith.

He showers us with image producing metaphors like “we becomes for a time like a jetty submerged in the ocean waves and now covered at high tide.”

Contemplative Enigmas comes at such a crucial time in our history. While we may be feeling overwhelmed and our brains may at moments feel like confused mush, Father Donald has brought to us a work of art to reengage our brains. The small sections, although they tie together to tell a story, are able to stand-alone as well. It is truly a book that we can sit by a bedside, or on a kitchen counter, to glance at during a free moment as a source of re-energizing and encouragement. We can look to it as a source of nourishment to help push us through the next moment of uncertainty. 

I’ll leave you with this final thought from the work:

Better to be awkward, silent, dismissed as irrelevant, interpreted wrongly, rather than adopt a contrived artificial personality. Many people develop an exterior persona to fit into a social ambiance and meet a social need, but at what cost? Often, perhaps, the active contest that takes place in the arena of egos should be shunned and avoided, if one desires a serious life of prayer. We do not belong to this world, insisted Our Lord. We are without weapons in these settings. Perhaps defeat is inevitable in the open field of battle where the stronger egos defend their exalted importance and protect their superiority. Often there may be no better option for a prayerful person than silence, and this is not just good advice for monastic vocations.

Contemplative Enigmas is published by Ignatius Press.


Copyright 2020 Courtney Vallejo