Review of Learning to Pray, by James Martin, S.J.

Learning to Pray

A Guide for Everyone

by James Martin, S.J.

HarperOne, 2021. 386 pages.
Review written January 7, 2023, from my own copy.
Starred Review
2022 Sonderbooks Stand-out: #5 Christian Nonfiction

I thought I knew a lot about prayer. After all, I’ve done it all my life. But Father James Martin, a Jesuit priest, opened my mind to new ideas and new ways of praying.

He puts the thoughts about prayer in the context of his own life, telling his own story as he goes. But then besides offering different ways to pray, he answers many different questions about prayer. From chapter titles alone, I see “Why pray?,” “What is prayer?,” “What happens when you pray?,” “How do I know it’s God?,” and “Now what?” at the end. You can see from this that he doesn’t simply give formulas or rote ways to pray. You will find in this book explorations about every possible aspect of prayer.

And I appreciated his thoughts on ways to pray, some of them taken from Ignatian practices of the Jesuits. These included things like the daily examen, but also using your imagination to place yourself in a gospel story or going on a retreat with guidance from a spiritual director.

Above all, he challenged me to go beyond a simple list of requests and think about God’s response when I pray.

This book challenged me in multiple ways and I hope will influence my life and my prayer going forward.

Father Martin calls this book A Guide for Everyone, and here’s his Invitation in the very first chapter:

Learning to Pray is written for everyone from the doubter to the devout, from the seeker to the believer. It’s an invitation for people who have never prayed. It’s designed for people who would like to pray, but are worried they’ll do it the wrong way. It’s meant for people who have prayed and haven’t found it as satisfying as they had hoped. It’s also aimed at people who might be afraid of prayer. As I said, prayer can frighten us. It’s unfamiliar territory for some and can be frightening even for believers, because God can seem frightening….

By the end of this book I hope you’ll have a better knowledge of prayer. More important, I hope that you will have started to pray. Finally, I hope that your prayer will lead you to either begin, explore, or deepen your relationship with God, for prayer isn’t an end in itself: God is. The goal of prayer is deepening one’s relationship with God.

This book will challenge and inspire you in your personal journey with God.

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but the views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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