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Tuesday, May 20, 2014

"The Book of Not So Common Prayer" (Linda McCullough Moore)

TITLE: The Book of Not So Common Prayer: A New Way to Pray, A New Way to Live
AUTHOR: Linda McCullough Moore
PUBLISHER: Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2014, (176 pages).

There are some people who claim that liturgical prayers and no longer necessary as they say things like, "I say grace. I pray and work at the same time. I pray on the fly just like Brother Lawrence." Those who say this will be badly mistaken. Brother Lawrence is not just a man who prays when he works. He also participates in liturgy and prayers 8 times a day. This is what "unceasing prayer" looks like. We pray whether we work, rest, or performing religious liturgies. The "Practice of the Presence of God" is not just for those who work and work. It is also for all other moments when we are not working or doing something. In our modern world of technology, gadgets, and mobility on the go, praying is increasingly becoming an after-thought or a spiritual flash in the religious pan. How then do we cultivate a prayerfulness amid a busy lifestyle we live in? Bill Hybels claims that our society has made us think we have become too busy to pray. That is why he counters by saying it is "too busy not to pray." Moore, an accomplished writer hopes that more will not only know how to pray, but want desperately to pray.

She begins with her own musings about how prayer is essentially what we were made for. Realising that it is quite challenging to schedule prayer times during the day, she looks beyond mere time toward posture. She tries out intentional Bible reading as prayer. She involves her whole body to reflect a posture of prayer. She examines the set times of prayer Jesus often takes and questions the very notion of speedy prayers that many modern teachers suggest. While it is true that short prayers are better than not praying, the overuse of short prayers in our prayer life will mean the loss of spiritual disciplines. Moore writes:

"The reason we do not spend one of those hours every day in prayer is because we do not want to, and we do not want to because we have not spent an hour there." (p10)

It is a matter of the will, not about the deficiencies of the flesh. Do we desire God more or do we want to gratify self more? She points out whether our use of time has unwittingly become a reflection of the god we worship. "Time is a thermometer" of our spiritual passions. She falls back to the conventional ACTS paradigm of prayer to begin with: Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication. She talks about how art can infuse a prayerfulness. She looks at Confession and sees it not as a negative in terms of pouring out our sins, but as a positive in terms of how it frees us from burdensome sinful past. Good prayers are those with a concentrated gaze on God. I like that.  Prayer is also about prayer for all people, those we love and the strangers that come to mind.

Other uncommon prayer habits include the need to understand how time impacts our praying. Many people have a tendency to schedule our prayer time without much thought. Some prefer the start of day while others prefer either the evening or the midday. With the constant struggle between praying first or work first, all of us need to find our own rhythms through the day. Moore likens the need to find time to pray to the need for finding time to write. Gently, she encourages readers to move beyond mere praying times toward seeking to find God at all times. She looks at self-discipline and notes how similar it is to habits. The illustration about how one breaks the habit of using the TV remote control within the first seven seconds of sitting on a couch is instructive. Likewise, in cultivating prayer as a discipline, we can take concrete steps to remove the distractions of our daily life, so as to be intentional about keeping the important thing the main thing.

I ask myself: "What's so uncommon about the prayers in this book?" Actually, it is about small paradigm shifts. It is what I call habitual jiggling to renew our love for God through prayer. It aims to turn unceasing prayer that grows beyond mere set times toward loving God and neighbour in the ministry of prayerfulness. Moore writes in a manner that ranks her in the same category as Anne Lamott and to some extent Anne Dillard. Some readers may question whether she is qualified to write spiritual works as she has no theological degree or some Christian teaching credentials. I would answer by simply saying, one does not need a degree to talk about religious stuff. One needs to be a believer. As believers, we are all called to pray, and Moore is essentially using her gift of writing to encourage more to pray.

Rating: 4.5 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of Abingdon Press and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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