INTERVIEW WITH MICHAEL SWAN, AUTHOR OF WRITTEN ON MY HEART

  1. What is Written On My Heart about?

It’s about the most common, ordinary way Catholics pray – rote, memorized prayers. This is a method of prayer often dismissed as unthinking, robotic and possibly an example of misguided, magical thinking. People say Hail Marys when they’re desperate. They promise God repetitive prayers in exchange for his rescue. But contempt for the ordinary prayers of ordinary people is too easy. This book tries to show how a long-term relationship with a memorized prayer can be the ground of a deep and thoughtful faith.

  1. What inspired you to write it?

These are the prayers I say most days. The book is really just faith-sharing by means of prose. It is dedicated to my mother, who was losing her memory as I began writing. I was, at that time, halfway across the country grieving her losses with her and thinking about what memory is, and what it does, and reciting my memorized prayers on dark mornings walking to the gym.

  1. What goals did you have for this book?

This was a means for me to grab hold of a lot of half-thought notions I had about these prayers and about praying in general; to build them into actual thoughts – something a rhetorician might call an argument.

  1. What have been the greatest rewards in writing this book?

A journalist normally accumulates the raw material of stories from interviews and whatever data can be gleaned from others. The stories we write allow readers access to the people, institutions and other sources active in the story. My goal as a journalist is to disappear – to be the window through which others see the world. In this book, I have interviewed myself, interviewed the Scriptures, interviewed history. This is a different window.

  1. What have been the greatest challenges? 

I was classed as dyslexic, “perceptually handicapped” and “emotionally handicapped” back in the late 1960s. I spent a couple of years in then experimental special classes, missing out on Grade 4 and ending up a year older and a lot weirder than the other kids I went to school with. Teachers never really expected me to finish high school. I was misspelling my own name on test papers at the age of 16, when I was still a year older than everybody else. Despite making it to university and even graduate school, my attempts at the expected accomplishments of adulthood – marriage and a career – over and over fell well short through my 20s and 30s. The book and everything I write is always a way of being in the world, being a part of life.

  1. Any final words to your readers?

Don’t pray robotically or mechanically or under threat from a mean and cranky God. And don’t let some spiritual prig call your memorized prayers second rate or immature. Pray them ardently, with your whole heart and mind and soul. Examine those cherished prayers the way an old widow examines the ring her husband gave her half a century ago – with longing and tenderness and hope and maybe a little unfolding insight.

Michael Swan is an Award-winning journalist and photographer, and Associate Editor of the Catholic Register in Toronto. His new book, Written on My Heart: Classic Prayers in the Modern World, can be found and purchased here.

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