Casey, Michael, Toward God: The Ancient Wisdom of Western Prayer
Ligouri/Triumph: Ligouri, Missouri, 1996. 176p.
Michael Casey has been one of my favorite authors since I first read Living in the Truth about 5 years ago. A Cistercian monk living in Australia, he writes with wisdom garnered from decades of prayer and teaching. This is the fourth book of his I have read and in my estimation, it is his best work.
Toward God is not an academic survey of Western prayer. Casey freely admits in the opening lines that it is a personal account of one who has been steeped in the Western spiritual tradition. He quotes heavily from The Cloud of Unknowing, Julian of Norwich and Bernard of Clairvaux. While the book is personal, it is not autobiographical. It is what I imagine sitting in retreat with him might be like — encouraging, honest, practical.
While this is an accessible book, I am not sure it is a book for beginners. Well, maybe it is, but only in the sense that in the ways of prayer, we are always beginners. He presents no seven-step plans, no formulas for advancement. What he does offer is sound counsel to continually and relentlessly place ourselves humbly and honestly before God.
Casey is realistic about what prayer is and what it is not. His decades of experience allow him to write about dryness because he has experienced it. It also allows him to share that what we perceive as dryness is not always so. He keeps reminding us that the goal of prayer is not about our feelings, but about our growth in God.
“Our glory is to be transparent. If the face of God shines through us, we will be perfect in both beauty and happiness. Efforts to leave our mark result only in obscuring that radiance.”
Ultimately, Casey reinforces that prayer is not about us influencing God, but allowing ourselves to be influenced by him. The proper aim of prayer is not to use God to order the world to suit us, but to place ourselves in God’s presence so he can shape us to suit him. At different times, this prayer can happen with or without words. It may seem like nothing is happening most of the time and yet we must persevere if we are to truly know God and be known by him.