It is best to read them in that order as Laird takes you step by step from the edge of the ocean into deeper and deeper water. I have read the first two books twice and gained so much each time. I'm only a few pages in with the third but this morning the following sentence provided my Lectio Divina for today!
"Contemplation and the lifestyle leading to it and flowing from it, asks but a single question, 'What does kindness look like at any given moment?'"
I am struck by the simplicity of this statement and its question. Why did Laird choose the word kindness rather than love, or compassion? Perhaps for the very reason that it is so surprising. I would have expected the word love or perhaps compassion. But kindness is such a simple, gentle, unassuming quality. Anyone can be kind. Kindness does not require any special skills, forethought or preparation... aha ... there's the conundrum! It's true that kindness is shown by many people quite unexpectedly and naturally. That's wonderful. However, I think what Laird is saying is that the practice of contemplation develops a lifestyle from which kindness flows. That makes sense. Contemplative prayer (and contemplative living) are practices of letting go the self focussed narrative of thoughts and motivation. Less self focus allows more spaciousness for God and for others.
As I ponder that, I think I am a more kind and gentle person now than I was some years ago. I can't be sure that is necessarily the fruit of my contemplative practice but I'm happy to think the two may be linked. And I smile ruefully at the fact that between writing the previous paragraph and this one I was out for few hours and was very impatient and frustrated at the incompetence of a "customer service" situation! Ah well, the reminder that I'm still a beginner is no bad thing. I think I am quicker to recognise my own faults with kindness even as I hope to do better.