In perhaps his most famous maxim, the 4th century mystic Evagrius Ponticus wrote, "If you are a theologian, you pray truly; if you pray truly, you are a theologian." Sarah Coakley's text is, without question, the product of a theologian's prayer. It is, furthermore, a theologian's invitation to pray and to develop the art of Christian contemplation.
A critical book review would praise the book's erudition and accessibility. No doubt, this is the work of a theological master. Each page crackles with brilliant retrievals of the tradition and results in a creative, refreshing, and empowering synthesis.
Its brilliance as a scholarly text aside, let me say simply: this book enkindled within me the desire to pray. Coakley describes the act of contemplative prayer as inculcating "patterns of un-mastery" whereby one allows God, through the Spirit, to refashion one's life in the pattern of the Son. I finished the book yesterday afternoon and attended the Palm Sunday liturgy at a local parish. I found myself newly caught up in the Passion narrative anew. I cannot escape the sense that this probing text contributed enormously to carving out new space within my heart and mind, making possible a new experience of liturgical and personal prayer.
This is not a dispassionate book "about" theology. It is, itself, an exercise in theology because it is book arising from, and leading toward, prayer. Written in a flowing and accessible manner, this is an indispensable book for readers who desire to know what it would be "to enter, willingly and consciously, to the life of divine desire." For Coakley, theology is always "a recommendation for life." Read this text as an itinerary, as a program of theological exercise of mind and spirit, and be open to the transformative power of ascetic prayer led by the Spirit.