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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