In 2010, Stone’s Throw Away followed Patricia McCary Rhodes’ Soul at Rest, which took me through August. Since then, when I have blogged, I’ve considered Scripture prayers. Now in the space between years and blogs, I thought I’d offer some suggested prayer reading for 2011.
Daniel Wolpert’s Creating a Life with God: The Call of Ancient Prayer Practices is less concrete than Rhodes’ book, with fewer directions and more room to experiment. In this way, he grants us permission to follow the progression from specifics to spaciousness.
Wolpert’s book isn’t as orthodox in its assumptions as Rhodes’. For example, he leaves the designation “a sinner” out of his Jesus Prayer. He directly references neither our need to deal with sin nor our want of freedom from oppression. He avoids using Scripture’s masculine pronouns for God. And he cites fewer Scripture sources than Rhodes did.
He also expects less Scripture-reading for its own sake. For example, in lectio divina (holy reading) some understand the first step as Bible study proper. They reserve the reading rung for seeking to understand what the Scripture means in general and leave the meaning-for-me-in-particular to the second/meditation step of lectio. Wolpert, on the other hand, has us looking immediately for words and phrases that stand out to us personally.
This stray from orthodoxy may be due to the incorporation of what Wolpert has learned of prayer from other religions. Or it may reflect a deep respect for his reader and each person’s journey. Both habits—learning truth from whatever its immediate source and respecting God’s work in others—would benefit us to learn. Both of them require trust in God’s sovereign rule over the objective and the subjective parts of our experience.
Wolpert continues his focus on the individual journey in his group practices, where he directs people to attempt the method alone and then share the results (debrief). This is a Western approach that values tolerance and allows community experience to be much more controlled by the individual.
Wolpert does take the Eastern view when presenting apophatic prayer, encouraging the reader that the purpose of this method is “nothing.” This is the only place I suggest caution, not because apophatic prayer is valueless—one can imagine the benefits of approaching God without an agenda, however difficult that may be—but because it is dangerous. Opening oneself to emptiness in order to know God is different than entering the void for the void’s sake.
Those with prior experience in witchcraft, Satanism, New Age, Transcendental Meditation, Hindu gods, spirit guides, etc. would do better to seek specific instruction on apophatic prayer from a minister, spiritual director, or Christian friend. Someone who can teach the Christian view, provide suggestions specific to the individual, and walk alongside the pray-er will be a safer resource for learning apophatic prayer than an impersonal book.
The “traveling companions” Wolpert does permit are various historical figures and their stories, which he introduces rather loosely throughout the book. He avoids formalized academic histories, instead organizing prayer into four roomy but clear categories:
- the foundations of solitude and Scripture,
- mental prayer,
- body prayer, and
- outwardly focused prayer.