Takeaway: Good introduction to an Eastern Orthodox conception of prayer.
I have read a lot of books on prayer. According to my tag cloud on this blog I have 22 posts on books that are significantly about prayer. So maybe I do not really need to read more books about prayer, and instead, just need to pray more. But still I am drawn to books on prayer. In my mind there are two or three transcendent activities that we do as Christians (I would label them as Prayer, Worship and Eucharist, which may be part of worship). These transcendent activities are the ways we connect to God and therefore must be the central part of our faith. If we really want to be changed as Christians, be different not because of rules or practices but be different because of our relationship with God, then I think it is going to be through these transcendent activities that we will find the source of that change.
So in spite of the fact that I have “learned a lot about prayer” and that I honestly do try to pray regularly, I still seek more.
One of my attempts at seeking more is identifying some books on prayer from different streams of Christian faith. I have done this to some extent already. What I liked most about The Jesus Prayer was that it was written from an Orthodox perspective. The Divine Hours and In Constant Prayer even if written for Evangelicals are really from a more liturgical stream. Beginning to Pray by Anthony Bloom was recommended in books by Paul Miller, Bill Hybels and Frederica Mathewes-Green. (And it was on audible.com so it did not violate my book buying fast.)
The most important, and obvious, thing about reading about prayer from a different tradition, is that the why and how we pray is described differently. In the second chapter, there is an interesting discussion about the types of prayers that we can do. One is extemporaneous (what we evangelicals do almost exclusively.) The second is biblical prayers, primarily the psalms. And the third is all other written prayers. Of the third set, Bloom wants us to pick good prayers, primarily of saints and people that have been recognized for a while as having had good prayers. This is similar to some advice I hear about contemporary music, if it is new it might be good, but you won’t really know for 50+ years.
The part of this discussion that really struck me however, is that Bloom said that extemporaneous prayer should be saved for those times when we are too struck for anything else, either because of pain or worship. Use of extemporaneous prayers at any old time, can lead to us babbling before God trying to impress him. When we are in pain or in worship we naturally cry out with the Spirit’s help. But we can be resistant to the Spirit praying through us when we are in our normal prayers, which is why Bloom thinks we should learn (memorize) a couple dozen (at least) prayers of the second and third variety so that we are ready with appropriate prayers for all the rest of the time.
There is also a very interesting discussion about striving after prayer in the last chapter. I do not think I have ever heard and Evangelical speak on prayer that has said “stop praying and just sit for 15 minutes, doing nothing and rest before you pray.” Bloom suggests that we can work too hard and not get anything out of it, because we strive after God instead of simply entering his presence.
Another idea that I thought was a good practice in our busy lives is to get an egg timer and set it for 5 minutes. Spend that time before God, without an agenda, just sitting in his presence. Do this a couple times a day to refocus. Nothing that we do, really cannot wait for 5 minutes. And if we don’t set a timer, we will be tempted to look at the clock and defeat the purpose.
This was a rich but simple book. I am putting it on my Read Again pile. It is not available for kindle. So if I follow my rules, I am going to have to find a paper book to read it next time. It is old enough I might be able to find it at a used book store.