Monday, August 24, 2009

God, Help Me. How to Grow in Prayer

All summer I have heard God telling me to “Be Still.” I’ve heard Him say it at church in the readings, the Homilies; I’ve heard it through songs and music that pop into my head or come on the radio. As a working mom, my time is already largely spent away from my family, and making time to develop a relationship with God outside of Mass is a challenge. "Be Still" and do what exactly?

God, Help Me. How to Grow in Prayer a book by Jim Beckman
God, Help Me: How to Grow in Prayer
Jim Beckman's book God, Help Me. How to Grow in Prayer, begins by noting that many young adults were never taught to pray. While we have grown up with programs and events, a whole generation is defenseless against today’s attacks on the faith. I immediately recognized myself as one of those (not so young anymore) adults raised on CCE classes that were less about learning the catechism and more about feeling good in our knowledge that God Loves Us.

In fact, I chose this book from the Catholic Company reviewers program because I was curious how to grow in prayer. Growing up “praying” meant a specific prayer and as an adult praying a Rosary is the closest I’ve come to a structured meditation of prayer. I suspect I’m not alone in saying that I haven’t been formally exposed to the specifics on using prayer to broaden my relationship with God.

God, Help Me! is divided into three parts. Part One addresses why prayer is important and defines the cultural realties that prevent us from developing a capacity for true intimacy with God.

In the first chapter Beckman addresses the major excuses of why we don’t pray today, predominantly a lack of time. But, the most intimate relationships in our lives are with those people with whom we purposefully schedule quality time. So it is with God, and regular, consistent, daily prayer is our doorway to embracing that loving relationship.

Beckman also addresses the daily influences within our culture that steal our attention and diminish our ability to pray, including living in a godless society of isolation, independence, “tolerance,” and sexual confusion. We are constantly busy, over-saturated, and blind to our spiritual journey. Distracted prayer is not conducive to a deep prayerful life.

Part Two focuses on understanding meaningful prayer, how the Holy Spirit speaks to us, the ebb and flow of desolation, and how to discern what messages are coming from God vs. our enemy. Beckman elaborates on the core principles and dynamics of a good prayer, which requires consistency and honesty. (Chapter five is a key chapter) He also identifies key roadblocks to achieving good prayer.

Part Three demonstrates what can happen in our lives when prayer comes alive. Real experiences illustrate the gift of Christian imagination and discernment in prayer to connect with spiritual realities. Beckman encourages the development of good habits. “Little things done consistently become a formidable force in our lives.”

The challenge of committing to purposeful prayer is to take our natural habits and push past them to develop new, healthy “supernatural” habits, similar to adopting a physical work out schedule that over time supersedes our natural habit, or desire, to be at rest. Our spiritual life is a journey, always moving, either toward or away from God. Beckman presents an effective analogy of that spiritual journey compared with the Lord of the Rings movie trilogy. (You’ll have to read the book for the fascinating details.)

The book closes with testimonies and five appendices of additional information on finding closeness with God through structured prayer.

This book, like the prayer it recommends, requires an alert and active mind for thoughtful processing. For a working mom who multi-tasks everything, especially reading, I note the irony that as I read this book these sentences really stand out to me.
“The pace of our life, the constant noise in our environment, the barrage of media and images – all contribute to a poverty of silence, which is the breeding ground of the interior life. Years of this rapid, noisy pace leave us somewhat impaired, sort of ‘attention deficit’ when it comes to prayer. We have a difficult time quieting ourselves, stilling our hearts and listening.”
Even in these few hours I’ve taken to read the book and write the review, I've been distracted, even guilted, about the time it's taken. The kids are calling, doors are opening, the TV is loud in the other room, the phone rings, the dryer buzzes, and my husband interrupts me to talk. My house is never still except when all are asleep.

However, if you too feel the call from God to “be still” and don’t know what to do with that message, I encourage you to read this book.

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