How to Pray: Alone, with Others, at any Time, in any Place

Cottrell, Stephen
Church House Publishing (2010)
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Bishop Stephen Cottrell has become the master of the slim religious volume and his latest (revised) effort is no exception; indeed, if we are honest with ourselves a starter book on praying might be more vital to our spiritual life than anything else he has written.

Cottrell begins by admitting his own shortcomings in the prayer department and ruefully remarks in his conclusion that evangelism fails for lack of Christian prayer. He (rightly in my view) says that there are thousands of books on prayer but just not enough material on getting started, particularly with children: "It is almost as if there is a movement in the Church that rather wants prayer to be an activity of the elite. We have a glut of spiritual 'experts' and an endless fascination with all sorts of different spiritualities, but what we don't have is simple teaching about saying prayers." Citing Nouwen, echoing Aquinas, he continues his point: "I cannot pray but God can pray in me". But we must will it; it is the paradox of call and response. I worship, therefore I am. That is why we are created.

Prayer is relationship with God; Cottrell then presents short chapters on getting started, praying in the family and at work, and ends with how we handle the situation when we can't pray, noting that for Christians the wilderness is a place of discovery. In a telling anecdote he recalls a Christmas card which showed joined hands against a star-filled sky with the legend: "Faith is holding out your hand and knowing that it is held" whereas, he says, it's exactly the opposite.

I am risking the good Bishop's sales by paraphrasing his ten golden rules but I hope you will be so impressed that you buy and read this lovely and useful little book. Unless we are assured regular praying people, we all ought to consider ourselves as starters.

So the first rule is, stop thinking and talking about prayer and just get started. Then, (2) invite the Spirit in, find time, find people, particularly in the family. Build prayer into life's rhythm making your home a place of prayer. It's different for everybody so (8) find a way of praying which is right for you, make life a prayer and don’t give up.

Here's a couple of test questions which should settle whether you are a mainstreamer or a starter: do you always say grace before meals? Do you pray daily with your family, and particularly your children? Do you regularly refer to a prayer book or say the daily Office? If it's "no" to any one of these, this is a book for you.