When I first started engaging in Catholic culture, I wondered why there weren’t any current Catholic books or musicians or artists. Then I realized that there are plenty — you just have to get out there and find them! So, here’s a regular book review for people who want to reinforce their faith with good books:
I first came into contact with Peter Kreeft through his non-official Twitter account. Basically, some dude quotes Peter Kreeft a lot, and the quotes were good, and then I saw this book for $1 at a church book sale and snatched it up.
Prayer for Beginners is exactly what it says it is — a beginner’s guide to prayer. But it also goes into helpful detail about prayer in context (in a very simple way) that makes it even more helpful than you might think, starting out. So, let’s get cracking!
Personal Reaction to Prayer for Beginners
Kreeft’s biggest gift is one of simplicity. Reading his work is like reading E.B. White, or a very simple C.S. Lewis. It was refreshing, it felt clean, and it was easy to understand. It was also really easy to pick up, read a few sections, and put down, and still keep it all in my head, so it’s a great nightstand book if you’re looking for something to show you how to get started with prayer.
That said, I don’t mean to dismiss it as a weak book. It will surprise you with the quality and depth of the thoughts it holds — it’s just easy to process as you go.
Go figure, but this book has had a big impact on how I pray. For me, prayer’s always been a vague, “think happy thoughts” kind of deal. (Which is crazy, at 32, to think I don’t appreciate it more). But between Merton’s Seven Storey Mountain and this book, I feel like I have a much more realistic and visceral understanding of how prayer works and what prayer is — and it’s a big deal.
Rather than being some psuedo-focus kind of mental practice, prayer is meant to be a connection or a witness to God. It’s an attempt to be in Jesus’s presence, not just thinking about him or reflecting on him. And while that’s not something I can “get to” every time I pray, making the effort to do that each time has been very powerful.
Amazing Quotes and Ideas from Prayer for Beginners
Like I said, this book is about more than prayer. Here are three big, awesome ideas that made me stop and think:
- Our brains are deeply tied to God. So much of my stress with my health and this pregnancy is about my mind: what if I lose my mind? What if I can’t focus? If I can’t focus, I can’t work, if I can’t work, I can’t bring in an income as a freelancer. But one of the best lessons I’ve learned this year (and which was reinforced with this book) is that God is in control of that, too. He’s not just masterminding the things that happen to us out in the world — he’s here in our brains, helping things happen (or not happen) as needed.
And so, almost like magic, on the days I deeply pray for the ability to work well and quickly… I do it well and quickly. The days I forget (or think I can just muscle through since “I do this all the time”) I sit here puttering for hours and hours, stressing about wasted time.
Sitting back and relaxing in God’s will for my brain has made me more peaceful about the high-concentration kind of work I do, as well as ideas I have for my business. I literally say now, as I fall asleep, “Lord, that’s a great idea. If it be your will, please help me remember it when I need to.”
“[We must ask for…]the grace to trust him with our lives. He is the Master also of our miserable memories. A thought comes into our mind when he says, “Come!” and leaves when he says, “Go!” He is the centurion, our thoughts are his soldiers.” p73
- Prayer is anything. I get frustrated sometimes about how hard God seems to have made it to be saints in this world. But
“God designed us to be animals (rational animals), not angels. He put us into a material world, and he put into our nature the need for many kinds of material actions, such as eating, sleeping, begetting, and working. He could not possibly have designed these things to be distractions and obstacles to our sanctification, but only means to it, for he designed everything to be a means to that end. Therefore, we can pray even in working (not just as we work); we can make our works prayers.
“How do we make our works prayers? Not by changing our work (unless our work is sinful or shoddy or dishonest or lazy), but by changing our motive. Instead of peeling potatoes because we want to taste them, we peel them because we love God, the God who wants to us to peel potatoes right now.” p75
“Brother Lawrence [says]: “Our sanctification does not depend upon changing our works, but in doing that for God’s sake which we commonly do for our own. It is lamentable to see how many people mistake the means for the end, addicting themselves to certain works.” p89
- Suffering has meaning. Here’s another point that overlaps with Merton’s book: suffering without context is unbearable, but suffering with context has purpose.
“Everyone knows that suffering is a test of faith, but not everyone knows why. The reason is that while we are suffering, at first the suffering does not draw us closer to God but tempts us to turn away from him and to concentrate wholly on ourselves, in fear or self-pity. This is the worst thing about sickness: not the pain in the body but the narrowing of interests in the soul… This is why suffering is a test if faith, not just of courage to endure suffering… Suffering tempts us to deny one of the three premises, one of the three divine attributes of goodness, wisdom, or power.” p102-104
Available here on Amazon for about $9
Tangents Inspired By Prayer for Beginners
I should be convicted for the negative things I’ve thought about prayer: that it’s kind of nonsense, that it doesn’t do much, that it’s just a friendly way to say you’ll think of someone fondly (but doesn’t go anywhere). In reality, though, if the purpose of life is to connect with God, and prayer is the way we do that, then prayer is as real as life gets. Or, as Kreeft puts it,
“Eating keeps your body alive, and prayer keeps your soul alive. Praying is more important than eating because your soul is more important than your body. Your soul is more important than your body because your soul is you, your personality, your self. You will get a new body after death, in the resurrection at the end of the world. But you will not get a new soul; you will only purify and sanctify your old one, because you are your soul. The ‘you’ that will get a new body is your soul.”
If you don’t think prayer is important, or you aren’t sure if you are doing it right, or no one ever taught you what it means to pray, get this book!
If You Only Get One Thing Out of It….
Prayer is more than thinking happy thoughts; there are lots of ways you can approach it to feel more connected to God and Jesus.
Don’t Stop Here!
Like the man said, if you don’t read good books, you’ll read bad ones. Here are more Catholic book reviews to keep you busy: