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Monday, December 5, 2011

Review: Experiencing the Depths of Jesus Christ by Jeanne Guyon

            Of late, I have been attempting to help my family in sorting through various groups of personal property my son has acquired.  In doing so, I ran across a copy of Jeanne Guyon’s “Experiencing the Depths of Jesus Christ”, as printed by Seedsowers, (the original title would have translated into English as “Short and Very Easy Method of Prayer; Which All Can Practice With the Greatest Facility, and Arrive in a Short Time, by Its Means, at a High Degree of Perfection”).  As I have been writing on house church issues, I was familiar with Seedsowers as the publishing house connected with the works of Gene Edwards, a pioneer, but controversial figure with those believers involved in simple expressions of Christian life. At this time, I have not read any of his works.  This particular issue has a forward and afterward to the writing, which has no indication whether it was written by Edwards or someone else.  Anyway, in my recent free time, I read it.

            Jeanne Guyon was a woman living in France in the 17th century.  France, of course, was politically and socially dominated by Roman Catholicism in that time, and she was officially Catholic throughout her life.  This writing drew the ire of parts of the religious and political status quo, and she was denounced as a heretic and imprisioned.  History shows that her writing influenced John Wesley, the Quakers, Zindendorf and the Moravians, the Holiness Movement and Watchman Nee, among others.

            This book is on the subject of prayer.  As those of us who have been believers and desired to follow Jesus learn, prayer is something, in one sense more complicated, and in another sense defying description, in comparison to our society’s concept of what it is.  On the first page, she quotes 1 Thessalonians 5:17 “Pray without ceasing.”  The unbeliever, who thinks of prayer as a thing done publicly by one person, recounting God’s acts and verbalizing requests, thinks this to be impossible.  Reviews of her life describe her as a mystic, I would assume for considering this command to be possible, which, of course, it is not by human effort alone.  She attempts to describe entering this depth of following Jesus and prayer with the term “prayer of simplicity.”  To the world, this isn’t prayer at all, and I know that we who are believers daily deal with the idea, even among fellow believers, that the formal public prayer is what is meant by prayer.  Whoever wrote the afterword to this version wrote, “Even in the original French version, the book is vague and complicated with a vocabulary at once so exacting and yet so obscure that reading it has always been a study in frustration.  The English translation did nothing to help.” 

            Much of the early explanations about how to pray in the early part of this book appear to be extremely similar to explanations of Eastern meditation, with the substitution of Jesus or scripture inserted in place of a point, place on the body, or emptying of the mind.  While the two are far different, how to pray is a thing that Guyon and others I have read struggle to put into words, not that I feel that I could do any better.

            There are, though, some really good parts of this book.  In the later part, as she begins to describe the results of learning what she describes as depth in prayer, and what others might describe as basic Christian maturity (as the two are different descriptions of the life of desiring to live God’s way, and not separate compartments), she started describing things I have sensed, but have never heard publicly stated.  Some of these things I will say are true Christian, mature spirituality, but are insidious to status quo religion, be it the Catholicism of the 17th century French culture she lived in, or modern Western Christian status quo, be it Catholic, Protestant, Pentecostal/Charismatic (if you consider that flavor separate from the previous), or unaffiliated informal believers (which would be where Edwards’ and my interests would come into play here).  I won’t tell you what these are, I wouldn’t want to spoil the ending, as some say about movies. 

There are places where I question whether she chose the right words to describe a certain thing, in many places, and this makes this simple to read book a challenge to read.  I fully well recognize that she didn’t have the advantage of a modern Christian book’s being gone over by proofreaders and scholars before being printed.  Still, for the believer desiring to do some spiritual mining, there’s a lot of gold amongst the rock here.

            As most books concerning simple worship are not readily available in bookstores (Christian and secular), and, further, this has an original publishing date in this version of 1975, I will state it is available at, and I must note that, in comparison to virtually every publishing house I am familiar with, all there books are quite reasonable, with regard to price.

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