Wednesday, May 19, 2004

The Practice of Prayer

Creating a Life with God: The Call of Ancient Prayer Practices, a review
Daniel Wolpert (Upper Room Books, 2003). 192 pp.

Wolpert's work is a brief examination of different prayer practices that have endured throughout the history of Christian spirituality. It is not an academic treatise; it is a "how-to" text, peppered with quotations from primary authors, and enlivened by the author's own prayer practices.

Creating a Life with God introduces readers to the following prayer practices:
  • Silent Prayer, as introduced by the Desert mothers and fathers of the Christian tradition
  • Lectio Divina, sacred reading of scripture (not merely "bible study") introduced by St Benedict of Nursia
  • the Jesus Prayer, introduced in The Way of the Pilgrim as a way of continual prayer
  • Apophatic Prayer, contemplative prayer in the tradition of the Cloud of Unknowing (and the model of Pennington and Keating's "Contemplative Pryaer")
  • the Examen, the examination of God's movement in our life and actions, as taught by Ignatius of Loyola
  • Creativity, discovering the play of God in life, following the example of Hildegard of Bingen
  • Journaling, listening for the voice of Heaven in our writings, as taught by Julian of Norwich
  • Body Prayer, finding the breath of God in our own breathing practice, and rediscovering the sacred nature of our bodies (vis-a-vis the Song of Solomon)
  • Walking Prayer, examinging the spiritual life as a true physical journey (includes the Labyrinth)
  • Nature, hearing God in the voice of Nature, as guided by St Francis of Assissi
  • Prayer and Living in the World, putting prayer into our daily lives, following the model of the Beguines
  • Prayer in Community, or creating a true community of faith at work.

What Wolpert does with this book is introduce a practice, discuss very briefly its tradition and history, and then--more importantly-- teach us how to explore this method of prayer. The book ends with an appendix containing step-by-step instructions on how to introduce the prayer in private and group practice.

It is not about making us deeply powerful pray-ers as much as it is trying to find ways to reintroduce the practice of prayer so that it infuses our daily lives. The book is incredible as a short introduction to multiple practices.

What's my take on it? I can tell you now I'm likely to avoid journalling. I already blog; I write a lot. I love writing. Perhaps at times I can find the voice of God in the written words that I produce, but I want to not add to how much I have to write.

I've always liked the Jesus Prayer--in essence, repetition of "[Lord] Jesus Christ, [Son of God], have mercy on me [a sinner]." (As you can see, it can be simpler or more complex to your tastes." I first read about it years ago in J.D. Salinger's Franny and Zooey. When I first read that book, with its reference to some esoteric little prayer text called "The Way of the Pilgrim", I was intrigued--and I was overjoyed in college when I learned that it was a real text. If I were to try some prayer practice routinely, I honestly believe this would be it. I can see a purpose and value ot the others, including lectio divina, but this is the one that draws me the most. We'll see.