- - Sunday, November 29, 2015

These and other books can be ordered from Byron & Beth Borger’s Hearts & Minds Bookstore: HeartsandMindsBooks.com/order/ (20 percent discount if you mention The Washington Times).

“Kneeling with the Giants: Learning to Pray with History’s Best Teachers,” Gary Neal Hansen (InterVarsity Press), $16 — Few who develop a meaningful and mature life of prayer do so without learning from others. Who better to learn from than the giants of the Christian tradition, those who have come before and have written the most enduring, classic works about their spiritual practices?

In this remarkable book Mr. Hansen offers a key insight about a particular way to pray, drawn from spiritual giants of the past. As a good guide he reminds us that the point is not just to learn about these famous ascetics and their books but to actually pray and experience God as they did. Mr. Hansen, a Presbyterian seminary professor, helps us by explaining, for instance, St. Benedict’s insight on using the Divine Office, Luther’s teachings on the Lord’s Prayer, Calvin’s studious meditations on the Psalms, St. Teresa of Avila’s experiences of recollecting the presence of God or even learning how and why the Puritans wrote out their prayers.

From the ancient “Jesus Prayer” to evaluations of Agnes Sanford’s “The Healing Light,” this covers a very wide array of material. There is an appendix on using the book in small groups or church classes as well as a final reminder called “Putting Prayer into Practice,” which is very thoughtful and highly recommended for those serious about deepening their journey into prayer.

“The Soul of Shame: Retelling the Stories We Believe About Ourselves,” Curt Thompson (InterVarsity Press) $22 — This is not a book on prayer, but it does explore the psychiatric benefits of a coherent understanding of the biblical teaching about shame, about how modern science and neurobiology explains what happens (in the body itself) when people are stuck by toxic emotion. With verve and plenty of real stories, Mr. Thompson explains the ways in which spiritual experience can help bring restoration and healing as people learn to “dare greatly,” taking risks of relational vulnerability. Mr. Thompson is a psychiatrist with interest in brain studies who integrates faith and scholarship in insightful ways. His earlier book explored these themes: See the very readable “Anatomy of the Soul: Surprising Connections Between Neuroscience and Spiritual Practices That Can Transform Your Life and Relationships.”

“Too Busy Not to Pray: Slowing Down to Be with God,” Bill Hybels (InterVarsity Press), $16 — This very approachable, nicely written and quite helpful primer has sold over 1 million copies. This book is ideal for those who feel too stressed to pray regularly, or for those who need guidance in the basics. It is simple, a joy to read and compelling in practical ways.

Mr. Hybels is the pastor of the large Willow Creek Church near Chicago, known for its upbeat services designed with sensitivity for the unchurched, so he knows how to write for an audience that may not be familiar with theology or religious terminology.

“Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference?” Philip Yancey (Zondervan) $16.99 — Mr. Yancey is respected as one of the finest evangelical writers working today, a good journalist and author of many fine books exploring how people find meaningful faith, searching for God in a complicated world. Here he asks a perennial question: Does prayer really matter? He then reports on his findings and invites us all to more fruitful prayer, knowing there is great mystery.


“A Praying Life: Connecting with God in a Distracting World,” Paul E. Miller (NavPress), $14.99 — In our ecumenical bookstore we have sold hundreds of different books on prayer over the years. This may be the most talked-about book on the topic in years, in part because of its profound sense of the goodness of God’s great mercy shown in Christ, but also because the author is himself a learner, sharing stories from his own struggle to deepen his relationship with God.

In this engaging work Mr. Miller offers down-to-earth advice, telling humorous anecdotes about his own daily life. Endorsements come from respected evangelical leaders such as J.I. Packer and Philip Ryken, president of Wheaton College.

“Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home,” Richard Foster (HarperOne), $24.99 — Few authors have shaped the late-20th century Protestant world’s understanding of spirituality more than Richard Foster, a lively Quaker who, in his legendary “Celebration of Discipline,” reminded us that one of the great dangers of contemporary life is superficiality. “We need deep people,” Mr. Foster implored, as he guided readers unfamiliar with medieval mystics, Roman Catholic monastics and contemporary contemplatives into deeper spiritual waters, igniting an ever-growing trend of fresh interest in classic spiritual disciplines.

Many think this second of his many books is his best, offering 21 different ways to pray, from the most quiet and meditative to the robust and lively, to ways of encountering God in the ordinariness of the mundane. One of the more important books on prayer written in the last 50 years.

“Living Prayer,” Robert Benson (Tarcher), $14.95 — Mr. Benson has a remarkable way with words, a writing style that offers simple storytelling and a rare economy of language; he is a master of clear and moving prose.

In this tenderly told faith journey, he writes of leaving his fundamentalist background, learning to experience God through more ecumenical, liturgical practices, attending his first silent retreat and entering the world of creative laypeople exploring contemplative spirituality. For his experiment in taking up the practice of “fixed hour” prayer, see his lovely “In Constant Prayer,” part of the “Ancient Practices” series edited by the late Phyllis Tickle.

“Thoughts in Solitude,” Thomas Merton (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), $14 — Mr. Merton was one of the most well-known of 20th century Roman Catholic spiritual writers. His memoir of leaving a promising literary career to become a Trappist monk (“Seven Story Mountain”) was famously on The New York Times bestseller list in the 1950s.

His dense “New Seeds of Contemplation” is considered a classic, but this little volume is one of his most beloved and accessible works, a great introduction to the prodigious writer. It reminds us of the need for stillness and what happens to a society when a frenzied pace makes such solitude rare.

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