Fire From Above
Christian Contemplations and Mystical Wisdom
By Anthony Lilles
Sophia Institute Press, 2016
256 pages, $19
In Fire From Above: Christian Contemplations and Mystical Wisdom, Anthony Lilles has produced the equivalent of a manual for those interested in deepening their prayer life, informed by the lives of many saints and guided by core Church teachings. At the heart of the book is a desire to help readers deepen their prayer lives to counter a worldview that is increasingly oriented toward the secular and hostile to acts of faith.
Lilles seeks to guide readers on a journey through the spectrum of prayers, from the basic fundamentals of prayer and Church teachings to deep mental prayer. Parts of the work were more engaging and navigable than others, but, overall, Lilles does a fine job of producing a lay-oriented read that emanates from a prior work published four years ago. By exploring the teachings of multiple saints and various Church teachings and customs, Lilles provides readers with the foundational knowledge that is necessary to progress to a deeper and more conversational prayer life with God.
For example, two early chapters in the book focus on the Holy Trinity. In two subsequent chapters, Lilles reviews the importance of making the Sign of the Cross.
“The sacred gesture declares that we will not implicate ourselves or our resources to anything that will diminish the dignity of our neighbor or ourselves. We signify our resolve that evil work will have no place in our lives, even if this means having to suffer great evil and humiliation for the sake of Christ.”
In addition to St. Elizabeth of the Trinity, Lilles focuses on the writings and teachings of a number of other Carmelites, notably St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross. During this discussion, he segues to the present time by exploring some current threats to the faith.
He then proceeds to propose a means of prevention or remedy for these challenges in the form of mental or contemplative prayer, the focus of the second half of the book. Later chapters probe deeper into more advanced teachings, such as St. Teresa’s vision and teachings of the “Interior Castle,” with the radiant soul in the middle surrounded by chambers of varying degrees of light and darkness:
As the book moves toward its conclusion, Lilles digs a little deeper into topics such as contemplative prayer. Lilles does not shy away from questions on doubt or spiritual darkness, noting that many saints found themselves navigating similar challenges at times and offering practical guidance and encouragement.
I would recommend Fire from Above, particularly for those seeking to deepen their prayer life.
Nick Manetto writes from Herndon, Virginia.