On Having a Prayer Life: a book review

I had a mentor once who warned me of the danger of reading about prayer without praying. There is no shortage of books on prayer which describe prayer’s power, methodology, theology and practice. I have found many of these books thought-provoking and a few inspiring. But some books remain opaque to me–either too deep for me to grasp with my own shallow practice of prayer or too dry to set my heart ablaze. Mary Kate Morse has written a book on prayer which is theologically rich, warmly invitational and inspirational. A Guidebook to Prayer presents twenty-four ways to deepen your relationship with God and enter into the practice of prayer.

Morse describes prayer as ‘a love relationship involving the interdependent union of the Trinity’ (17).  Thus she doesn’t emphasize the duty of prayer but the way we attend to our relationship with Him. She says, “Rather than asking ourselves, ‘am I praying each day?’ we should ask ourselves, ‘Am I in a love relationship with God today? Am I living like Jesus today? Do I smell the sweet breath of the Spirit today?'”(17).

This focus on how prayer cultivates our friendship with God is a welcome alternative to approaches that treat prayer instrumentally (i.e. what does prayer do?) or in a utilitarian way (i.e. what do I get out of praying?). Instead Morse invites us to see prayer as our participation in the life of the Trinity.  A Trinitarian framework for thinking about prayer is the organizational framework for her book. The Twenty four ways of ‘praying’ are presented under the headings: ‘God the Father,’ ‘God the Son,’ and ‘God the Holy Spirit.’

In Part One, Morse  focuses on the Fatherhood of God. She begins with a  ‘community prayer’ which evokes  both the divine community (The Oneness of God) and the ways God’s people have publicly prayed as a community for millennia (the unity of the Church). She includes both Jewish prayer (i.e. Praying the Psalms, the shema ) and praying set prayers with a prayer book (i.e. The Divine Hours, Common Prayer, etc.).  Morse reflects on various attributes (His holiness, His loving-kindness,  His Worthiness) and activities of God (His creation, His resting, His activity) as invitations to different ways of prayer. She describes ‘creative prayer’ (making something as an act of prayer), work prayer (praying as part of your vocation, contemplative prayer, confession, blessing and worship.

Part Two reflects on Jesus’ example. The incarnation invites us into a whole new way of being. Praying in Jesus name means experiencing Him in his Humanity, in His lordship, in His servant nature–as reconciler, as love embodied, as teacher, as sufferer, as savior and as the head of the body. The prayers in this section invite us into a whole new way of being drawing on Christ’s example. Morse presents some classic prayer practices (i.e. the daily examen, lectio divina, the sacraments) with other prayers which invite us to put on the character of Christ. With Jesus we are invited to pray (and live) simply, as servants. At times this means we pray playfully aware that God is with us in our joys. But we enter into suffering and relinquish our need to be in control, learning that God is with us in our sorrows.

Part three describes the experiential dimension to our prayer life in the Spirit. The prayers that Morse collects in this section explore the Spirit’s ministry of intercession, discernment and guidance. The Spirit is what enables to experience God’s presence, His protection and deep joy. Thus the prayers in this section invite us to receive from God.

I find the Trinitarian framework helpful and inspiriting. I read this book with an eye towards practice and have attempted some of the prayer exercises that Morse suggests for individuals. However, each chapter includes suggestions for practice in groups, or with partners. This makes this an ideal resource for small groups,  prayer-partners, or really anyone seeking to deepen their relationship with God. Morse really has a gift for presenting these practices in a way that includes seasoned pray-ers and spiritual neophytes. This is the sort of resource that is accessible to anyone wishing to enter the life of prayer. But this a book meant to practiced and not just read.

Morse has G. K. Chesterton quote at the beginning of her introduction which says, “The difference between talking about prayer and praying is the same as the difference between blowing a kiss and kissing.” More so for those of us who are perennial ‘readers of prayer books.’ We are even further removed from the conversation. I am a better reader than I am a pray-er. However Morse’s book has inspired me and I have made plans to do each of the partner exercises with my wife over the coming weeks. This book holds out a means to deepen our prayer-life and our participation in the life of the Triune God. I give this 5 stars: ★★★★★

Thank you to InterVarsity Press for providing me a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

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