My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Prayer. Sounds like a harmless enough word. People pray in all sorts of ways, whether in gasps of ejaculated cries for help in a crisis, or in planned "quiet time" moments, or in coordinated settings of congregational worship. Yet, in my years of being a pastor, I find that probably most Christians struggle with how to pray, how to generate enough energy, tenacity and creativity to sustain a "prayer life". In my experience part of the problem comes with the notion that all of my prayers need to be of my own crafting. I, personally, have only so much in the area of creative juices, and then I run dry. One remedial question to ask is, do I have to always concoct my own prayers for them to be real? Scot McKnight, professor of New Testament at Northern Baptist Theological Seminary, resoundingly says "No!" in his 176 page paperback titled, "Praying with the Church: Following Jesus Daily, Hourly, Today." McKnight builds a case that makes a nice distinction between "praying in the church" (personal, extemporaneous prayers prayed whenever) and "praying with the church" (crafted, traditional prayers from prayer books, prayed at set times). This simple read is for layperson and pastor alike.
In the first segment of "Praying with the Church" McKnight explains his distinction, and pulls together biblical precedent for using the Church's prayers and doing so at the set times traditionally used during daily prayer. The author claims that as we do this we "are joining hands and hearts with millions of other Christians to say the same thing at the same time. By doing this, we are creating in our lives a sacred rhythm of prayer" (2). In this way we are interacting in one aspect of communal spiritual formation where we "are formed together as we learn to pray together" (38). There are times to pray spontaneously, offering petitions for things close to home and for people close to the heart. Then there are appropriate times to implore God's care and mercy, using prayers that remind us that we are involved in the Church of Jesus Christ world over. McKnight's point is well taken. In a narcissistic nation of personal selfies and private subjectivity, daily rising up to pray with and for the Church can be a medicinal tonic that fuels praying with new freshness. This is, in my mind, the best and most helpful part of the book.
The second segment of "Praying with the Church" is more a biographical tale of McKnight's employment of various prayer books; the Orthodox "Manual of Eastern Orthodox Prayers," the Roman Catholic "Liturgy of the Hours," the Anglican "Book of Common Prayer," and Phyllis Tickle's "The Divine Hours". Most of each individual chapter is an explanation as to the use of a specific prayer book, and a forewarning of things a reader might find hard to swallow. Yet throughout, the author reminds his readers why taking this adventure may propel them further up and further on. Though this portion of the book will give some readers fodder to feed on and courage to "dabble" in new things, nevertheless others will be disappointed. I imagine that in the end the Orthodox will "harumph" and write that chapter off as not Orthodox enough; that the Roman Catholic will shake their heads in dissatisfaction and dismiss that chapter as not Catholic enough; and that the Anglicans will smile, nod their heads knowingly and discount that chapter as not Anglican enough. The only person who may well be excited and cheer with glee will be Phyllis Tickle, who likely appreciates the extra coverage her books receive and the free advertisement.
All said, "Praying with the Church" has subtle, soothing strengths and disappointing, dissatisfying drawbacks. Those who may benefit the most from this little tool will be just about anyone who finds their prayers stilted and stumbling and who long to pray anew, both in the Church and with the Church. Pick up a copy and take it out for a spin.
[Feel free to republish, repost or reprint this review: but as always, please give credit where credit is due. Mike]
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