Awareness of the Divine - Reviews and Comments
For the last 25 years, John Davidson has been working on an extraordinary series, A Treasury of Mystic Terms. Here he draws on these volumes and his own experience to extract key passages and describe essential features of the mystical path of Oneness with the Divine Presence in the process of ego transcendence. His own commitment is to the Radha Soami, a lineage of spiritual masters in Punjab, whose current teacher is Baba Gurinder Singh (b.1954). The book explores the nature of glimpses and more extended experiences of higher reality, mainly from Western sources. As John notes, mysticism is an affair of the heart, of experience, love, bliss and deep understanding exemplified in past and present spiritual masters in their embodiment and emanation. Sources include many classic writers, including William Law, AE, Tauler, Eckhart, St Teresa of Ávila, Madame de Guyon, Tagore, Augustine, Walter Hilton, Brother Lawrence, Folignac, Evelyn Underhill, Richard Jefferies, and François de Sales. Each extract is like facets of a diamond reminding the reader of the wealth of spiritual heritage available to us through heightened perception.
Time is transcended in the eternal now of 'holy immediacy' (Thomas Kelly) that is its root within our eternal being also giving rise to the fruits of the spirit in terms of love, joy, and peace. All of this requires a practice, intent and attention in the present moment, which is what is meant by ceaseless prayer where the purified mind is subject to the spirit in a will surrendered to the divine. One practical example is the Jesus prayer (Kallistos Ware), 'Christ in me', a union of mind and heart in repetition and focus. Being still and in a state of tranquillity of both body and mind is also essential - the 'undisturbed stillness' of Plotinus where, unlike the mind, 'the soul does not want to move.' 'Knowing unknowing' is sometimes referred to as a cloud. Towards the end of the book, there is some more practical guidance on spiritual practice, focusing on the third eye as a gateway to the inner senses. The outer master forms the link to the inner master, 'who is pure spiritual consciousness and power' enabling the soul to realise its essential Divine Essence: 'Enlightenment is to discover who and what we truly are', which is only too easy to forget. As such, this beautiful book is a timely reminder.
David Lorimer, UK, Paradigm Explorer, 2022/1
Thank you for writing Awareness of the Divine. Reading it coloured what was otherwise a grey Christmas. I found it hugely inspiring, particularly your 'Out of the Blue' sections which reminded me of my own boyhood 'nature bliss', one of your best books in my opinion.
CR, Norfolk, UK
Hey, I bought your new book! So inspirational! Love it! I'm so happy you made that extra effort to get it published! I've loaned it to S. and she reads in it with a friend over the phone. I also mailed R. a copy.
JY, Austin, Texas, USA
(On reading an essay)... I saw that it's an excerpt from Awareness of the Divine, which reminded me that an out-of-town friend has my copy. I'd just ordered mine when she decided to go on a silent retreat and needed a good book, so I mailed her my copy so she could get it quickly. I haven't read the book yet, but she said it was wonderful and meaningful for her retreat. The essay on the website is a beautiful hint of what I have to look forward to. It's so deeply gratifying to know that books wing their way around the world and touch lives, whether many or few.
RH, Oregon, USA
A short note from an enthusiastic reader. Just finished reading the finished book "Awareness. " Had trouble putting it down! Overall impression this little book is a GEM for all seekers ..whether or not on the RS path just a wonderful compilation of quotes from souls with a Christian background. So beautifully written with a concluding chapter that knits these lovers of the Lord into the teachings of the mystic adepts.
ML, Toronto, Canada
Just finished and absolutely LOVED Awareness of the Divine. It was so clear, and beautifully put together, many thanks for all the support your works give.
M. P-S, London UK
I am over halfway through Awareness of the Divine, and I am just loving it! The selection of quotes is wonderful. It is good to discover new devotees and ones I read decades ago, like Brother Lawrence. The organization and names of the parts and chapters are superb. Your Personal Note is informative and inspiring, and I especially appreciate your commentary, including its clarity and the careful word choice.
MG, California, USA
I'm reading John's book a little bit every morning, there are so many books in this world - this is a GOOD ONE!
JT, Tenbury Wells, UK
Pre-publication editorial feedback
To a reader from a western, liberal/Christian background, the book appeals as being both elegant and apt. Elegant in that it has a clear structure and boundaries - i.e. it doesn't attempt too much but works deeply and effectively within its limits, moving in a logical sequence towards a conclusion. And apt in that there must be many people who have known moments of enhanced consciousness, even if not identified as the divine. So the starting point of that experience and where it may lead - as described in the text for the back cover - makes sense and is of interest.
As someone who approached Eastern mysticism in the 1960s, I also find it exciting, many years later, to realise that similar insights and practices have existed in western culture. It gives a sort of comfort, even confidence, in being in one's own skin or psyche.
The balance of quotation to text seems about right. The quotes are inspiring - more text would swamp them, less would not be enough to elucidate.
BC, Bedford, UK, 2019
After enjoying the first part of the book, being presented with wonderful quotes from testimonies of the Divine by 'ordinary' people, I became increasingly thrilled by the depth of experience of Christian mystics. Fascinatingly enough, of Christian mystics throughout the ages. It was a feast of recognition of fellow practitioners so to say, which was truly inspiring.
The first chapter, 'A Glimpse of the Unseen', prepares the ground for the following chapters by quoting from accessible sources, centring around deeply felt experiences of Nature. The depth of these experiences might easily be overlooked, although they are truly glimpses of the spiritual world present behind all material phenomena. Also coming as a surprise, and as a student of English literature not completely unexpected, are the quotes from some of the literary giants of the English literature canon. Yes, William Blake and William Wordsworth and all the other "Williams", who deserve to be mentioned and quoted. And then your breath is being taken away, when you come across a sentence like this: "It is as if we caught a glimpse of some incredible beautiful world that lies silently about us all the time."
Talking about glimpses, the second chapter, 'A Moment of Truth', contains some wonderful descriptions of timeless moments, frozen in time, when the presence of the Divine is suddenly revealed. Not only a glimpse of another reality, but also a feeling of being part of a larger whole, "an all-embracing emotion." The author describing how she felt that, "We were one with each other and with the Life which we all lived in common. I think in this moment I understood for the first time the meaning of those words 'the mystic brotherhood'." And just imagine this experience was taking place when the author "was waiting for a train in a small waiting room of the railway station."
Coming to the middle part, 'Unbroken Awareness', you're also made aware of an unbroken spiritual tradition. From Greek philosophers like Plato and Plotinus, from St Augustine in the early middle ages and Meister Eckhart in the later middle ages, to Thomas Kelly and Richard Jefferies in the 19th and 20th centuries, less well-known perhaps, but again so impressive by the depth of their experiences and inner observations. "For the holy now is not something which we, by our activity, by our dynamic energy, overtake or come upon. It is a now which itself is dynamic, which lays hold actively upon us, which breaks in actively upon us and re-energizes us from within a new centre."
From another, practical angle, it is an inspiring handbook on meditation. So much practical, down to earth ? although that's a paradox ? advice and guidance is given in the latter parts of the books, that it is legitimate to call The Divine Presence a manual on meditation. Reading about Brother Lawrence who "made awareness of the presence of God his primary business in life", what an example for Shabd practitioners! An inspiration but also some consolation for disciples of a living master who are constantly engaged in ceaseless repetition. The many beautiful quotes serve their purpose. And, of course, there is The Way of a Pilgrim, emphasizing the all-absorbing importance of focus, of never straying from the centre.
Basically, The Divine Presence, is a book of quotes, to be more precise of spiritual wisdom quotes from the rich Christian tradition. To some extent a known treasure house was opened, but to a greater extent an unknown treasure house was opened. What a beautiful soul the author of The Cloud of Unknowing must have been. Going through the quotes, you realize that the uniqueness of the path is of all times and ages. And a life-long struggle? Where then is the struggle? Without doubt, the unrelenting struggle lies in stamping out all remembrance of God's creation, and in keeping such thoughts covered by that cloud of forgetting we spoke of earlier. This is no doubt a struggle ? but it is our struggle, aided by the grace of God; and the stirring of love, which we mentioned earlier, is wholly God's work. So do your part and I promise you that He will not fail in His." If this doesn't ring a bell!
It's a short book, you can read at one go, but then you spoil the pleasure of savouring the jewels in the jewel box. It should be one of those traveling companions, like The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis, to be regularly consulted for guidance and inspiration.
HD, The Netherlands