So so far the prayer has not really materialized. I read Richard Foster’s Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home. I didn’t much like it. Well there are parts I want to come back to, and I feel guilty criticizing a book on prayer by someone who has far-and-away-better-prayer-life than me, but it really didn’t resonate with me. Here is why:
It is divided into three sections which (upward, inward, outward) and Foster relates each section to one of the Trinity. Each section has seven type of prayers which help you achieve one of these dimensions of prayer. It is encyclopedic, and I honestly think I will look back on particular chapters and try the different prayer methods, or suggest particular ways of praying to others I mentor. But despite its usefulness, I found Foster’s whole project wrongheaded. I am not sure if what I need is a taxonomy of prayer, as helpful as it is.
I acknowledge that some of my aversion may come from my own experience in regard to prayer. Once upon a time I was at a Charismatic church because I sensed that God wanted me to be open to the Holy Spirit. That church was a great practitioner of healing prayer and taught about it a great deal. I learned some of that there, and was generally open minded. However, one of the pastor’s would always suggest that if one ‘type of prayer’ didn’t work, simply try another type of prayer. He would say that each type of prayer ‘are tools in our tool box.’ At first, I ate up what he was saying because God was obviously doing something through the prayers of the people there, but something about the toolbox comment made me bristle. Finally I figured out what it was.
Treating each type of prayer as a different tool in your prayer tool box, suggested that if you just prayed the right way, God was obligated to answer you the way you wanted him to. Now, nobody said this, and they would nuance this by saying that sometimes God doesn’t heal, or answer our prayers. But the use of the tools in the toolbox image was technological and it promoted a sort of formulaic idea of prayer. I found it difficult to jump from the idea of prayer as a tool to prayer as a conversation or communion with God.
Now I know this is a lot of baggage to dump on Foster. But I remain skeptical of lists of ways to pray, in order to achieve this or that objective. I understand that some understanding of the multiple dynamics of true prayer means that you end up talking about it in different ways, but I struggle with this approach.