18 February 2021, The Tablet

What happens when you close your eyes?

What happens when you close your eyes?

A profound and practical guide to listening out for God

Learning to Pray: A Guide for Everyone
(WILLIAM COLLINS, 288 PP, £16.99)
Tablet bookshop price £15.29 • Tel 020 7799 4064

This book made me want to pray. In fact, more than many of the wild mystics, saints and spiritual writers I’ve read, it makes prayer so attractive, sensible and dynamic that I often failed to finish chapters in one go, putting the book aside to test its premises and promises in real time.

Which, according to the thoroughly Jesuitical supposition at its heart, is exactly why Fr James Martin SJ, author and editor at large of America magazine, wrote it. “Where does the desire to pray come from? From God ... Strange as it sounds, your reading of these lines at this moment is a sign of God’s call.”

“Prayer is a personal relationship with God,” Martin explains – more specifically, a conscious conversation with God within the context of a relationship. It’s relationality that underpins the thesis of the book. Prayer isn’t what you say or how you say it: it’s how you are with God – longing, bored, angry, sleepy – and how God is with you. No one can teach you how to pray, any more than they can teach you how to be a daughter or a husband. But they can teach you how to spot God’s invitations. Nudges, like picking up a book on prayer; whispers, like wondering where your old rosary is; and inclinations – why can’t you stop thinking about that news bulletin on asylum seekers? These invitations are easy to miss – or dismiss – amid the background noise of everyday busyness and desires. It usually takes a spiritual director to help you spot them – and what Martin has written is, essentially, a pocket-sized spiritual director.

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