PRAYER FOR BEGINNERS
by Peter Kreeft
(Ignatius Press, 2000, 125pp, $19.95, ISBN: 978-0-89870-775-5)
WAYS OF PRAYING
by John Edwards, SJ
(Gracewing, 1982, 2012, 90pp, $19.95, ISBN: 978-0-85244-798-7)
Peter Kreeft was formerly a Professor of Philosophy at Boston College and is now retired. He is a vigorous author of numerous books as well as a popular writer of Catholic philosophy, theology and apologetics, especially the last. He has been a leading Catholic apologist in the US for many years and was an adult convert to Catholicism from a Dutch Calvinist background.
This short, accessible book on prayer asserts that any Christian can, and is in fact commanded to pray to God regularly. Those who visit book shops may know there is a series: ... for Dummies such as English History for Dummies. Well, in a sense, Peter Kreeft has written this short book for those who know little about prayer and feel inadequate in approaching the subject.
Prayer for Beginners might well be retitled as Prayer for Marthas, namely for those who are so caught up in the frenetic pace of daily life that they feel they have no time to pray. They ask: "What can I do?" In this short book, Peter Kreeft offers some useful ideas on approaching the subject of prayer.
Kreeft encourages beginners to commence with vocal prayer, since he views silent, contemplative prayer as a more advanced skill. Beginners must learn to "stop, look, and listen", with special emphasis on listening.
Since prayer is a conversation with the unseen God, prayers can begin with a RAPT structure: Repentance, Adoration, Petition and Thanksgiving. Another powerful beginner's prayer is the "Jesus prayer" as simply invoking Jesus' name is in itself a creative, prayerful action.
Kreeft also offers advice on handling distractions: "Get right back on the horse every time you fall off," he advises straying minds while on the more thorny issue of avoiding prayer because of unconfessed sin Kreeft's approach seems non-denominational at some points although there are references to the Catechism and to perfecting prayer in Purgatory which underline his Catholic frame of reference.
Prayer for Beginners is easy to read, brief, clear and focused.
The second related book under review, Ways of Praying, is a recent reprint by the English publisher, Gracewing, following the death of Fr John Edwards, an English Jesuit who spent much of his active ministry giving missions and retreats. In these situations, Fr Edwards often spoke of prayer.
The book is a gem of distilled wisdom and its style suggests that Father was an examination teacher of Form 6 English students preparing for their university entrance "A" Levels in the subject of "Prayer" as the style is so clear and precise. Often points are used as in the chapters, "Different ways that God is present" and "Methods of Prayer". However, Father Edwards' "bio" suggests that giving parish missions and retreats of all kinds were his focus.
In fact, Ways of Praying provides a thorough introduction to the many different methods of prayer in the Christian tradition, helping us to understand our current prayer practice, and to go deeper. Chapters include "The Mass", "The Sacrament of Reconciliation as Prayer" and "The Rosary"
For over thirty years this little book has provided sure and helpful guidelines for developing a personal life of prayer. It should prove a useful and easily available reminder to priests, religious and laity, and especially to young people, of the vital importance of prayer. Cardinal Basil Hume endorsed the first edition book in the Foreword:
"Personal prayer is possible for everyone and is an indispensable means of fostering a close relationship with Christ Our Lord. I am particularly pleased to see the emphasis given to the reception of the sacraments, especially the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and also the part played by sacramentals in prayer. I hope that Ways of Praying will be read and used regularly by all those who desire to grow in the spiritual life."
In 2014, both Cardinal Hume and Father Edwards SJ have gone to their reward. However, this compact work is ideally suited to young people at the secondary and tertiary levels as well as for personal edification.