Thursday, October 1, 2015

Book Review: Hidden Mountain, Secret Garden

The stack of books I'm trying to read is much larger than what my calendar allows for. When I do actually finish a book though, I want to use the blog to tell you what I thought about it. I'm happy to lend this or any other book in my library if you live near me and don't look like a hooligan.

I had been working at Hidden Mountain, Secret Garden for a long time and only recently finished it. It was written by Dr. Anthony Lilles, a former professor who taught my spiritual direction and spiritual theology courses. Dr. Lilles's lessons opened me to the depths that are possible in the spiritual life so anything he publishes is sure to find it's way onto my shelf.

I took a while to finish the book not because the book is especially big or difficult, but rather because I wanted to savor it. Dr. Lilles has spent his life studying prayer, but more importantly, he's spent his life growing in love and friendship with the Lord. He explains the title on page one:
"Prayer seeks out a hidden mountain; it searches out a secret garden. The mountain is the presence of the Lord. The garden is friendship with Him. The prize is priceless. In this quest, no sacrifice is too costly. The make this journey is the reason we were made."
With this introduction, Dr. Lilles takes you on a journey describing what is possible in prayer. I worry that many of us think that prayer is simply closing our eyes really tight and thinking pious thoughts. But prayer can and should be much more than that. Prayer should be friendship with the One who desperately longs to have a friendship with us, with the one who is so desperate for our friendship that He died to have it.

Dr. Lilles explains that prayer isn't easy, but it's worth the fight. His sixth chapter, Prayer as Spiritual Combat, explains that there are forces both internal and external that oppose you in your battle for friendship with God. If you commit to the battle, the devil will definitely, not probably, lay snares to discourage you. He doesn't want you to have this friendship. And if you commit to the battle, the weakness of our own human flesh soon interferes. We become bored or jaded because we don't see "results" like we think we should. But prayer isn't like that. Prayer is a relationship. Prayer changes our lives, but usually in imperceptible ways.

Towards the end of the book, Dr. Lilles teaches that our prayer is not superfluous, but rather a crucial part of God's plan. He doesn't act until we ask, even though he knows what we need even before we ask. This is because he wants us to participate in his creation and in his redemption of this creation. He wants us involved! So we pray.

After being in three of Dr. Lilles's classes and now having read his book, my suspicion that he is brilliant is confirmed yet again. His thought isn't always easy to follow, but it's worth the work. Dr. Lilles knows God and he knows the human soul, and his work on prayer, that secret meeting between the two, is well worth reading.

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