by Joachim Hartmann and Annette Clara Unkelhauber
Reviewed by Eileen Quinn Knight, Ph.D.
As Father Daniel Horan alluded to in a NCR article, speech is golden. I appreciate and think about what he said to all of us about how we speak. For myself, I try not to put anyone’s name in my mouth unless it is to encourage or compliment them
Haus Gries retreat house in Bavaria, Germany was founded by Father Franz Jalics, SJ in 1984. He developed the ‘Gries Path’ of contemplation. In his best-selling book. Contemplative Retreat-An Introduction to a Contemplative way of Life and the Jesus prayer, he describes this path, which we continue to teach in our ten-day courses. Its basis is two-fold: 1. Continuous silence and 2 Communal prayer times held in the silence of the group. In addition, each day, there is an opportunity for individual retreatants to meet with their guides for one-to-one spiritual accompaniment and for communicating whatever is emerging from their inner journey. The day ends with a communal celebration of the Eucharist. This includes reflections based on Holy Scripture on central themes of the spiritual journey.
The Gries Path leading to the Jesus Prayer is composed of a series of exercises or steps. We begin with awareness exercises out in nature and then move on to body awareness exercises. Here we accompany our breath on its journey through the body. The next exercise is awareness of our hands, seeing the middle of our palms as a door that can lead us into the present moment. Our practice of contemplative prayer continues, focusing on a word. We listen to the way it resounds within us or the way I which it invites us to move into a relationship with it. This way of prayer is compatible to that found in the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius. The succession of words used, one building on another is: Yes, Mary and Jesus Christ. The Jesus Prayer forms the heart of the Gries Path. The Jesus Prayer can be found in other spiritual traditions but in the way it is used on the Gries Path it has its own profile.
In this book we speak of ‘contemplation’, ‘contemplative prayer’, and ‘contemplative retreats’ rat
her than meditation because the word ‘contemplari’ (to look, to gaze) aptly expresses the goal of our spiritual journey. “We will see him as he is” (Similarly the word contemplation1John 3:2) names awareness as the way to this goal. The word contemplation and meditation can take on different meanings depending on the school of thought. Contemplation as we understand it,and as we are using it in this book is an alert attentiveness which does not take other sources suh as text or ‘material’ as is focus, butut is characterized by simplicity and silence. What is foremost here is being present, staying aware, staying alert, letting things happen and receiving. In contemplation it is not a matter of thinking about something. It is about being completely and immed9iately attentive to the present moment, allowing whatever happens in the silence, when oriented on the presence of God to reveal itself.
The idea for this book originated from the desire to make more widely available the valued experiences that emerge through the conversations between retreatants and guides. We want to present the key topics and make them accessible to others.
The individual chapters of the book, each based on a particular theme, have a clear and consistent structure. A short introduction to the theme is followed by a conversation, Scripture , the writings of St. Ignatius, experiences from spiritual accompaniment an our own personal experiences form the basis for these conversations. Using the questions, “Where was my heart burning? Where were my eyes opened? We pick out the aspects of the conversation that triggered a particular resonance within ourselves. Finally each chapter concludes with short exercises for the reader, relevant to the theme. The author found this form of a spiritual conversation to be the most inspiring and illuminative for the purpose of this book. All those wishing to deepen their spiritual life and incorporate the Ignatian exercises would find it meaningful to read this book and follow its directives. It will bring you to holiness.