Everyone can pray

“Everyone can pray. Let me put it another way. If I can learn how to pray, then so can you,” writes Fr James Martin SJ in the introduction to his new book Learning to Pray: A Guide for Everyone. The book, launched in February, is destined to become an important resource for anyone who wants to learn about prayer or anyone who wants to teach and help others learn to pray – watch this space! 

The book starts by looking at ten reasons believers think they cannot pray. Fr Martin says that people often believe they cannot pray because prayer is for holy people and not them. He explains why prayer is for everyone and why clergy and religious do not have some sort of advantage that others don’t. He also, intriguingly, says that some people are “turned off by religion and therefore are turned off by prayer”. He says that prayer should not be bound up with religion because prayer is more than a particular religion or church. 

Talking about the book, Fr Martin said that he has been working on it for about seven years. He says that he wanted to write about everything he knew and had learnt about prayer in the last 30 years. He shares some personal learning and experiences of prayer.

Fr Martin dedicates one chapter to looking at what prayer is. He discusses various definitions that have emerged from saints and mystics in the Christian tradition over the centuries. St Therese of Lisieux, St Teresa of Avila, St John Damascene and St Ignatius of Loyola are but some of the greats he draws on. He then offers his own definition of prayer: “a conscious conversation with God”. 

Because the book was born from his own prayer experience and from being a spiritual director and retreat giver, Fr Martin also addresses questions that many believers ask about prayer. For example, he takes a chapter to look at different types of prayer, how we know that it is God speaking and not just the voice in our own heads, and what happens when we pray. He deals with dryness in prayer, distractions, expectations and the overall ups and downs of the spiritual life. 

Towards the end of the book, Fr Martin offers a very succinct and insightful view of the importance of spiritual direction, retreats, faith sharing and journaling. 

The book is close to 400 pages long, but any person wanting to pray will soon notice that it is worth every page. It is comprehensive, yet very accessible. There will be something in this book for one who has never prayed and one who has prayed for years. It is full of important information, insights, humour and personal stories.

If you have questions about prayer, want to learn how to pray or want to deepen your own prayer life, this book is for you. If you are still seeking something to assist you this Lent, this book may be the key to a life-changing understanding of prayer, God and yourself.

A recording of the hour-long video interview done by Fr Russell Pollitt SJ with Fr Martin is available from the Jesuit Institute for a small donation. E-mail: admin@jesuitinstitute.org.za

Fr Russell Pollitt SJ

Fr Russell Pollitt SJ is the Director of the Jesuit Institute and is interested in the impact that communications technology has on society and spirituality. He regularly comments on South African Politics and various issues in the Catholic Church.

director@jesuitinstitute.org.za @rpollittsj
See more from Russell Pollitt SJ
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