In the weeks leading up to Easter, thoughts often take a spiritual turn. With today’s challenges of the pandemic, fraught politics, and social turmoil, one would think praying—for help, for comfort, for guidance—would be on the increase. But that's not necessarily so. Christian writers and publishers have observed people are stumbling on the path to prayer, so this season they have released several books to encourage and inspire people who feel tongue-tied trying to talk to God.
Some people may be angry or doubtful or afraid their prayers won’t be answered. Others are simply intimidated by the Almighty, says Jesuit priest and America magazine editor at large James Martin. “Most people think everyone else prays better than they do,” he tells PW. So the author of bestsellers such as The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything, has written a book to ease the way, Learning to Pray: A Guide for Everyone (HarperOne) It’s one of two new titles on prayer released in February that went straight to the top 10 list on the PW religion bestseller list.
Martin sees an upsurge in people looking for help in prayer. “They don’t even realize that they are already praying,” he says. They are already opening up “a conscious conversation with God.” That’s his definition of prayer, with or without words. He wants to give them the confidence to keep going. “A prayer is neither right nor wrong. There is no one way to pray. Praying is accepting an invitation from God to be in a relationship and in relationships we are honest,” Martin says.
Learning to Pray offers different methods and practices of prayer people can try out and see what suits them, he says. The book also addresses a major concern many share. “God doesn’t always answer our prayers in the way we would like and we can’t explain why. The great question is: Can you believe in a God you don’t understand. Can you trust that God hears you and then accept the answer? Often that answer is actually already within you. You find a change in your perspective, a new insight that prayer has crystalized for you,” Martin says.
A Rhythm of Prayer: A Collection of Meditations for Renewal (Convergent) is the second February title joining Martin's on PW's top 10 list. Two-dozen renowned progressive Christian writers—all women, ranging from Nadia Bolz-Weber to Barbara Brown Taylor—give readers “an intimate look at the diverse language and shapes of prayer, showing how it can be offered tenderly, boldly, creatively, even subversively," according to the publisher. Rhythm was edited and supplemented with essays by Sarah Bessey. She’s a popular blogger, Christian conference speaker, and a co-founder of the Evolving Faith podcast and annual conference with the late Rachel Held Evans, to whom the book is dedicated.
There are also new titles for adult readers who may prefer to rely on traditional prayers scripted by their faith.
Tish Harrison Warren, an Anglican priest and author of Christianity Today’s 2018 Book of the Year Liturgy of the Ordinary, takes a deep dive into one prayer. She named her new book from a line in the evening prayer, the Compline. Prayer in the Night: For Those Who Work or Watch or Weep (IVP, out now). It spoke to her in a time of suffering. Through exploring the Compline, she told Religion News Service columnist Jana Riess she hoped “to give people permission to really look at the grief in their life, and the struggle to believe, and be able to meet God in those questions and those places of grief.”
Carolyn Pirtle’s Ten Ways to Pray: A Catholic Guide for Drawing Closer to God (Ave Maria, out now). gives step-by-step guidance for “ten distinct ways of praying that Catholics have utilized across the centuries and around the world in order to develop your own prayer practice,” according to the publisher.
Children, too, need the trust in God that undergirds all prayer, says television celebrity and mom of three Elisabeth Hasselbeck. So she put a spotlight on this in her new book Flashlight Night: An Adventure in Trusting God (WaterBrook, out now). The book includes pages where a child can write out “my biggest hopes, my biggest cares,” she writes. It’s a miniature version of the floor-to-ceiling “prayer walls" —one for the children, one for the parents — in the Hasselbeck’s house.
In the book, she describes "flashlight night," when they look to their lists, blinking the light on on prayers where God, unseen but omnipresent, said “yes” to their hopes or petitions or eased their fears. Then they shut it off for the prayers “where your ‘yes ‘has not come yet,” Hasselbeck writes.
“My idea for the book is that God is not too big to see small things. It tells kids big and small that you don’t need to save your prayers for emergencies. We don’t have to keep our anxieties inside. We don’t have to hope alone. The book is like a permission slip to have real conversations with God, “ Hasselbeck says.