Reading this book was like sitting down and having coffee with a priest. It was simple and casual—no big words, no endless Bible quotes, no tedious sermons. I felt perfectly at home.
Fr. Rolheiser is the author of seven previous books and has a weekly column carried in seventy newspapers around the world. There may not be a Catholic anywhere who hasn’t heard of him. For his regular readers, Prayer: Our Deepest Longing will be comfortingly familiar ground. Novice readers like myself, who have never browsed through his books or looked at his column, will be drawn in by his easy, conversational tone and his welcoming approach to faith.
Prayer isn’t about the correct words or posture for Fr. Rolheiser. Kneeling down in a pew and keeping one’s hands folded and eyes shut is easy. Learning the ‘Our Father’ or the ‘Hail Mary’ off by heart is easy. What Fr. Rolheiser argues is that, just as the Church isn’t just a stone building with stained glass windows, prayer isn’t just reciting a few verses. Prayer is alive and human, constantly shifting and changing.
“Why is it so difficult to pray regularly?” Fr. Rolheiser writes:
“Sometimes reasons are obvious: over-busyness, tiredness, and too many demands on our time. But there are other reasons too, suggested by monks and people we think of as mystics. The problem we have in sustaining prayer, they say, is often grounded in the false notion that prayer needs to be exciting, intense and full of energy all the time. That is impossible!”
He urges readers to think of prayer less as a carefully constructed speech and more as a routine conversation: a chat over the coffee table. It may be boring (“hi God, today I swore at the guy who cut me off in traffic and that was probably bad, so sorry about that, also please let my doctor’s visit go okay next week”). It may be humiliating, confessing to things we’d rather not admit to ourselves or anyone else. There may be little or nothing at all to say. It doesn’t matter, Fr. Rolheiser says. God takes an interest in all our lives, whether bad or dull or merely average.
Making prayer a daily habit builds up a profound connection with God, even amid all the distractions: getting to work, checking emails and texts, cooking dinner and picking up laundry. In the same way that we go to movies with our friends and have dinner with our families, praying regularly makes God a normal and accepted part of our life. And in return, when we need it the most, God’s power, working in us, can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine.
The appendix of the book does have a couple of guidelines for prayer—sitting down quietly for fifteen minutes, reading a short passage from scripture, even lighting a candle. But Fr. Rolheiser closes his advice with:
“If you begin to feel anxious or to worry that you are not ‘doing it right,’ remember the words of a holy peasant who, when asked to share his secret to deep prayer, said simply, ‘I just look at God, and I let God look at me.’”
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