Warning about Collecting Books on Prayer

Hi, I’m Daniel Westfall on the channel “Pray With Me.”

Occasionally on this channel, I will review books about prayer. I want to tell you about some of the books that have been the most help to me on my journey into prayer.  But today, instead of reviewing a book about prayer, I want to WARN you about the danger of trying to develop your prayer life by reading lots of good books. What’s the danger? If you read each of the books I review in the next few months, your head will be packed with information about prayer.  But where will your prayer life be?

Here’s how Ian Rankin, a Scottish author of mystery novels, describes the reading habits of his detective John Rebus: “Rebus collected unread books. Once upon a time, he had actually read the books that he bought, but these days he seemed to have so little time. Also, he was more discriminating than he had been then…  These days, a book he disliked was unlikely to last 10 pages of his concentration. His books for reading tended to congregate in the bedroom, lying in coordinated rows on the floor like patients in a doctor’s waiting-room. One of these days he would take a holiday. . . and would take with him all of these waiting-to-be-read-or-reread books, all of that knowledge that could be his for the breaking open of a cover.” (“Naughts and Crosses”, pp. 38-39).

Maybe you too have lots of good books around your house — dusty and unread. And maybe that’s a sign you don’t need more books — you could spend some time praying instead.

If you want to try some of the books I review, but don’t want to buy them, here’s how to keep costs down. Borrow from the library.  The Edmonton library where I live has lots and lots of books on prayer. If they don’t have the book I want, they can usually get it with an interlibrary loan. Many churches have libraries. Can’t find any other source? Talk to friends. They probably have books they’ve borrowed and haven’t returned!

Another option: check Amazon.com or Indigo.com.  They have a feature where you can look inside a book. Usually, you can read the first 10 pages.  Inspector Rebus would approve.

Finally, after my stern warnings about not building a library you don’t use, here are some comforting words from author Lauren Winner: (“Still: Notes on a Mid-Faith Crisis,”  p. 75)

“Because it is easier to read about prayer than to pray, I have shelves full of books: meditations on the Lord’s Prayer by a dozen authors; scholarly accounts of prayer in the twelfth century, the eighteenth century; Hasidic wisdom on prayer; manuals for knitting a prayer rug, a prayer shawl, a prayer blanket, a prayer tree. (I don’t, alas, know how to knit.) Sometimes I think all this reading gets in the way, that the books become excuses, something to do in lieu of praying.  Other days, I know that to read about prayer is at least to indulge my desire, to acknowledge that I want this thing, that I long for it, even if this afternoon the closest I can get is reading voyeurism, greedy spying on other people at prayer.”

I’m Daniel on the channel Pray with Me, encouraging you keep alive that desire for prayer, even if the best you can do right now is to listen to other people talk about praying.

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