If you've never read James Finley before, you might think his recent book, "The Contemplative Heart," is just what the doctor ordered for your desire to learn more about the contemplative aspects of the spiritual journey. Well, yes...and no. You will definitely learn more about contemplation, contemplative prayer, and living a contemplative life. But be forewarned. This is not an "easy read." It's a book you'll need/want to read and reread...which is what I found myself doing. Practically sentence by sentence. The first time I met James Finley was at one of his silent retreats at the Holy Spirit Retreat Center in Encino, California. He's indeed a masterful retreat master. Profound yet humorous; complex and surprisingly poetic. The first Finley retreat I attended had the advertised title of "The Spirituality of Thomas Merton." And, although Finley decided to change the title at the first session to "Meditation in Daily Life," the conferences nevertheless seemed to be based on his 1978 book "Merton's Palace of Nowhere" -- a relatively "easy" read. Even his chapter on "The Realization of the True Self" was not terribly difficult to comprehend. Finley's clear and concise writing in "Merton's Palace of Nowhere" stands out sharply against many of his sentences in "The Contemplative Heart." The reader, therefore, must spend a little more time with this latest Finley book. Readers may find in "Heart" that the style of writing is akin to that found in the poetry of Thomas Merton and the prose of St. John of the Cross -- two authors whose books demand care and attention from their readers. In Finley's "Palace," the relatively complex is expressed comprehensibly; for example: "The realization of the true self does not fall into our lap like ripe fruit. It is true that in God we live without effort, but it is also true that it calls for a divestiture of the self to live without effort." On the other hand, in Finley's "Heart," in Part Two's chapter on Meditation, we read, "Contemplative gazing is the visual expression of the self-transforming journey in which we are set free from the twofold ignorance of seeing things as opaque to God as we simultaneously see God to be dualistically other than the concrete immediacy of things." Unfortunately, the clarity of the "Heart's" Table of Contents is not mirrored in most of its following pages. Part One's A Contemplative Vision of Life in the Contents is followed by Part Two: Find Your Contemplative Practice and Practice It, Part Three: Find Your Contemplative Community and Enter It, and Part Four: Find Your Contemplative Teaching and Follow It. However, I can't say that Finley doesn't warn us about the complex nature of this book. In his A Note to the Reader, Finley mentions, "These writings give primacy, not to conceptual thought, but to intuitions, intimations, and experiences of the spiritual path of contemplative self-transformation." Many of us must read that sentence a few times before we might translate it for ourselves into something like "This book is based on my (Finley's) attempt to describe the kinds of spiritual experiences that can change our lives as we travel on the contemplative path." He goes on to say, "I suggest, then, that you read these reflections slowly, much as you would listen to music." Here, again, a minor revision is needed for the sake of clarity. (Who listens to music slowly?) A careful editor would have urged Finley to say, "I suggest, then, that you read these reflections with care and attention, much as you might listen to your favorite music." All of these seemingly disparaging comments about aspects of Finley's latest book are not intended to negate my earlier comment that it is indeed a book worth reading...and rereading. And though Finley's writing here is particularly intricate and weighty, albeit at times poetic, he is at other, fewer, times concise and clear and to the point. For example: "We seek to live a more contemplative way of life, so that we will not have to wait until we are dying to learn how to live." Actually, this book requires study more than it does rereading, and is not for the "beginner," or the curious. This is a book for those who are serious about their spiritual life. And those who are committed to the contemplative path on their spiritual journey can't help but profit from a careful, slow, attentive reading of "The Contemplative Heart."