Ep030: Opening to God: Book Review.

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

Today is Book Review day! We will look at “Opening to God: A Guide to Prayer” by Thomas H. Green.

The author, Father Green, was a Jesuit missionary to the Philippines, where he taught and was a spiritual director at San Jose Seminary in Manila. He wrote a number of books on prayer.

When I first read his book “Opening to God,” I had been praying for a number of years. But in my prayer life, I felt like a lost soul in a foreign country. The Protestants I had read on prayer were helpful, but their advice was mostly, “Go here. Try this. Do that. Camp out with this approach for a while.” In my confused wanderings, “Opening to God” was a revelation, because it painted for me the vast and beautiful landscape of prayer and described the process of maturing in prayer. At last I had some sense of where I was and where I might be going and what roads might lead to maturity. Father Green introduced me to the country of prayer and provided a simple map to guide my travels.

Because I found the book so helpful, I loaned it to a friend and waited excitedly to hear her story about how it transformed her prayer life. When she returned the book, she said, “Do you remember telling me that if an author doesn’t grab your interest in the first 40 pages, you quit reading?” She said, “I used your suggestion. I quit this book after 40 pages.” I was crushed. I was devastated. She used my 40-page rule on one of my favorite books? I was sorry I had told her my rule.

Now, many years later, I can see why my friend might have disliked the book. It does get a bit technical in a theological sort of way. It addresses problems that interest me, like how Vatican II changed the way Roman Catholic novices learned to pray. But my friend was just too normal. She doesn’t have a nerdy, technical bent, so parts of the book didn’t interest her.

If you are learning to pray, this book is well worth a try. Here are four reasons to read it.

First, Father Green has a wonderful praying heart, which he expresses in simple language, and illustrates with great stories.

One of my favorite stories is his conversation with a student who was taking a prayer retreat. The student said to him, “Before we start, I’d like to ask one favor.” “What is that?” Father Green asked. The student said, “Whenever you start talking, I get nervous and forget what I wanted to say. So please don’t say anything until I have finished sharing.” Father Green reports that he heroically held his tongue and learned to listen (p. 27). From this experience Father Green explains that listening is at the heart of prayer. Sometimes we have to stop our incessant chatter and just listen to God.

Second, there are two broad approaches to prayer — prayer that asks God for stuff, and prayer that expresses a relationship with God. This book is one of the clearest descriptions I have ever read about prayer as relationship with God.

The third reason to read this book is that it invites use to use our imagination in prayer. A very important part of my prayer over the years has been to put myself into Jesus’ stories. I become Nicodemus visiting Jesus at night, I become the woman at the well, I become the man born blind. And listening to Jesus speak to them, I hear him speak to me.

And finally, this book has some of the best quotes ever on prayer.
For example, it asks, “When I pray, how do I know it is God I am talking to and not just myself?” (p. 48).
About knowledge: “True knowledge of God always goes hand with a painful self-knowledge.” (p. 8).
About listening: “To the beginner, there is . . . a puzzle and a mystery in listening to God. To the proficient pray-er it is no longer a puzzle, but it will always be a mystery.” (p. 34).

That’s “Opening to God” by Father Thomas Green. Read it, it will be good for your prayer life. Or at least skim it and enjoy the good stories and quotes.

I’m Daniel on the channel “Pray with Me”.

Thomas H. Green. Opening to God: A Guide to Prayer (Ave Maria Press: Notre Dame, Indiana, 1977)

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