Prayers of the Women Mystics by Ronda De Sola Chervin

Prayer Category
meditation, how to pray

The book Prayers of the Women Mystics by Ronda De Sola Chervin contains the prayers and writings of 19 women mystics from the 11th through the 20th Century. Chervin is a professor of philopshpy at St. John’s Seminary in Camarillo, California and she selects some of the best and most illustrative writings of each woman to showcase along with brief biographical sketches plus insightful introductions to the themes and styles of each writer.

Review: I learned about Prayers of the Women Mystics from the Associate Minister at our church who counts it among one of her favorite books on prayer. I was intrigued by the subject because I personally know very little about Christian mystics and was very curious as to how their prayer experiences might relate to mine. It turns out that this book is a fabulous introduction to the women mystics for many reasons. One reason is the broad historical range and the number of mystics represented and the carefully selected writings by each. But the best feature of the book is the role the author plays in helping us understand the background, the types of experiences and writings of the mystics and how to meditate on their writings.
The chapter on each mystic begins with a brief bio and description of their religious work and experiences, picks out several prayers from the mystic and, prior to the recorded prayers, the author adds in a sentence to tell us what to note about the work. As an example, in her introduction to the writings of Hildegard of Bingen: “Note how Hildegard weaves homey, sensory imagery into her awe of the marvelous drama of salvation.”Chervin describes mystics as having, “a felt sense of God drawing them into a closer union with him.” She explains that this “union” might be experienced in different ways, “ranging from a quiet but profound sense of God’s presence to hearing an audible voice in prayer, or even seeing a vision in prayer. Such believers are properly called mystics when experiences like this typify their spiritual life.”

The author cautions us to beware of those who claim such experiences yet whose lives don’t bear the life of virtuous love and service. She goes on, “We should strive for balance in assessing our attitudes toward authentic mystical experience and the prayer life it engenders… should never seek the experience as tonic for boredom in our prayer life…but be always open to whatever grace might have for our sanctification and purification. .. Sanctity includes the self emptying and union with God…we should never refuse such a gift.”

Chervin further educates us by describing the types of prayers that are included in the book. She shares that “most often prayer is in the form of silent infusions of love or locutions, or words from God. Consequently most words of mystics are not their own, but God’s. Yet sometimes they speak in their own voices.”

Her tips for using the book for meditation are: read the passages out loud. Next, “read them silently and slowly. Allow the outpourings to lead you into your own prayers. Keep a journal to record your prayers and graces.”

I also love her advice that we shouldn’t try to copy a particular mystic but rather to simply be who God has made you to be. And I also appreciate that she tells us that if a particular mystic doesn’t appeal to us, to simply move on until we find our “soul sister.”

This is a book you’ll want to read slowly and often. The bottom line for me is that it inspires me to desire a more passionate, fiery love for Christ.

Added by Karen Barber on October 30, 2012