The Problem With Books About Prayer

The problem with books about prayer is that they tend to stop us praying. What I mean is, instead of getting down to the business of trying to pray, we spend time reading about it; and the more we read, the more discouraged we often become. This wonderful, mystical adventure the writers promise, where is it? How does this dreary half-hour on my knees or that vacant sitting still on a chair, trying to summon some soul energy, measure up? Where am I going wrong?

17 August marks the anniversary of the death of one of the great English contemplatives, D. Gertrude More; and she had exactly the same problem, though in her case, the books about prayer she found uncongenial were the kind I myself have difficulty with. She did not find formal meditation helpful. Only when Fr Augustine Baker showed her a simpler, older way of praying did she discover that the Lord had been inviting her to pray all her life; and once she discovered that, there was no stopping her. When she died at the early age of 28, she was widely regarded as a woman of singular holiness.

The best advice anyone can give is Dom John Chapman’s ‘pray as you can, not as you can’t.’ Of course, there are some things we may find helpful (see, for example, the pointers given here) but we each have to find our own way. The great adventure of prayer will have its difficulties and its longeurs, but like any relationship, it grows and changes over time until, ultimately, there is nothing left but that great Love which draws us to himself.

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6 thoughts on “The Problem With Books About Prayer”

  1. The only form of organised contemplative prayer I’ve found powerful and quite profound is the Rosary. The insights keep coming…

    While we humans need quiet time for focused prayer, I’ve found it helps to thank God all the time by inviting him into everything. That way, we begin to have a hunger and a longing for time aside when we can see the world in perspective and not be carried along with its agendas. If we get it wrong, it is quickly taken care of.

    I have come to believe that prayer is less about petition, more about praise, and very much about God searching us out, as the young Christ did in the Temple among the elders.

    The Lord’s Prayer (or should I say the Our Father) does, of course, take care of all our needs and I wish priests would not race mechanically through it. We need to apply our present-day imagery to all its stages.

    Another thing which I use as a safeguard, since I don’t know what’s best, is asking that all my intentions be translated by the Holy Spirit according to God’s will. I’ve come to regard it as the shortest cut to peace.

    Thank you so much for sharing this because the subject is a bugbear to many Christians, and those who aren’t, and prayer (which implies the Fatherhood of God) is the most needed force on the planet. Pray – and we will be changed.

    And thank you for all yours, too!

  2. The great thing is to give time to it. This can be hard to do. Cardinal Hume often talked of the prayer of incompetence. Sometimes this is all we can offer. Even this is our gift to God.

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