Everyone comes from different religious backgrounds. For those of you who have been with me since the start of this blog, you know that my particular religious background is that of a cradle-born Catholic, the daughter of two converts to the Catholic faith (one of whom has a Ph.D in Theology and has taught Theology in Catholic colleges since I was a baby); you know that my educational background has always steered toward the Catholic side, what with using Kolbe Academy as a high school program and having gone to the University of Saint Francis for my B.A.; you know that my life hasn't been a life devoid of guidance and growth in my spirituality.
This book taught me a lot.
Cardinal Donald Wuerl's Ways to Pray: Growing Closer to GOD is a good book for anybody in any walk of spiritual life. Don't be scared by the fact that this book taught a cradle Catholic with a very formative religious upbringing; whether you are like me and have been praying since you could talk, or whether you have never said a prayer in your life (or, at least, have said very few!), this book will offer you a Prayer 101 that meets you where you are.
How? How can a book meet people with very different experiences, in very different places in life and development, right where they are...right where they need to be met?
I'm going to be brutally honest: I picked up this book because I really struggle with prayer. As in, I suck at prayer; morning prayers, evening prayers, prayers before meals--you name it, and if it's outside of Mass I'm terrible at it. But despite the fact that I'm not very good at prayer, I still know a lot about it. Remember, I spent several years considering a vocation as a cloistered Poor Clare (which would have meant giving up a majority of my talking and taking up a lot more praying). So when Cardinal Wuerl starting trotting out the different kinds of prayer--liturgical, vocal, mental; praise, thanksgiving, petition, etc.--I knew what he was talking about. But it never bored me; in fact, I learned a lot about those kinds of prayer that I hadn't known before, and the rerun through the basic facts definitely helped me to prepare for prayer. But if you're new to the prayer life, you're still going to be okay. The fact that it made sense to a seasoned Catholic doesn't mean it won't make sense to newcomers. In fact, Cardinal Wuerl's greatest asset as a writer is the fact that he never writes with the assumption that his readers have any knowledge of what he's writing about...and yet he managed to convince his readers that he also believes they know exactly what he's talking about. The result is that whether or not you know a thing about Catholic prayer, reading Cardinal Wuerl's chapters on the different forms of prayer will be beneficial and informative. I can't say that for every religious book I've ever read.
Don't let the above paragraph on how accessible this book is fool you. It's hard. As in, you'll sit there reading some of Cardinal Wuerl's suggestions and feel like this:
Cardinal Wuerl isn't just telling you the different kinds of prayer...he's telling you how to use those different kinds of prayer in your own prayer life. It's still a Prayer 101 course, and it's still meant for everybody...especially the slackers. Cardinal Wuerl approaches this book with the intention of guiding his readers toward a better prayer life; if you read this book, be prepared to be challenged to implement some suggestions into your own life.
Here's a peek at some of the challenges you'll face reading this book: [spoiler] "gaze" at God and "listen" before you do any asking; set up a prayer-time appointment at the same time every day...and keep it, just like you would a social commitment; try a new prayer, or a new type of prayer, and keep at it [/spoiler].
That's just a sampling. Maybe you'll read it and think that the Boromir meme was a little excessive, but I know that I had some moments in the course of my reading when I felt like Boromir was pretty much hitting the nail on the head. That's a good thing: if you read a spiritual book and think anything along the lines of I've got this, you probably need to find a different book.
So...have you ever wished--for whatever reason--that you could enroll in a course called Prayer 101? Maybe you're a cradle Catholic who just can't figure out the right prayer groove, or maybe you're a new convert who has no idea how to go about deepening your prayer life, or maybe you're somewhere in between. Either way, you've been trying to find that Prayer 101 course so you can get the ball rolling on your spirituality. Cardinal Wuerl's book is just what you need, whoever and wherever you are on the religious spectrum.
By the way, for those of you just feel like Boromir is summing up your life, you can find the meme used in this posting at the same place where I found it, right here.