Kneeling with Giants: Learning to Pray with History’s Best Teachers
Kneel is my one word for 2013. I had the opportunity to meet professor and author Gary Neal Hansen through Chad R. Allen’s blog. I was really blessed by his book. I’m so excited to introduce it to you and hear some great insight from Gary.
Reading this book was like taking a whole course in prayer and leaving with your faith inspired and challenged.
His book searches the lives of historical figures and their approach to prayer. I think it’s so easy to get into the habit of prayer being in terrible moments, or when nodding off to sleep. Really, prayer is so much more.
Gary Neal Hanson shares:
1. Which form of prayer did you find most helpful in your own spiritual journey?
It is very hard to pick just one as most helpful, since in one way or another all have helped me. However, when I was about 16 a Young Life leader got me to read Brother Lawrence’s The Practice of the Presence of God, and it shaped me deeply. This 17th century Carmelite monk developed the discipline of remembering constantly that he was in the presence of God, and that sparked a rich and constant conversation with God inside his heart and mind. As a kid who had just come to a new relationship with Christ this was really helpful, and it laid a foundation for the rest of my prayer life. Little did I realize Brother Lawrence’s little book was basically an excellent accessible example of the teachings of another Carmelite from a century earlier — St. Teresa of Avila. There’s a chapter on her in my book.
2. I loved Appendix 2 practical ways to practice each form of prayer. Why do you think prayer can be such a hard form of worship for Christians?
Actually I think it is kind of strange that Christians seem to think prayer should be easy. What in life that really matters, with the potential to remake your life from the ground, up is easy? Marriage? Parenting? Work that you are really called to? Everything weighty takes a whole lot of effort, and prayer is the most weighty thing of all.
Sometimes we fool ourselves into thinking it ought to be easy by saying it is just talking to someone you love. But it’s still counter-intuitive: when you are new to praying it can seem like the entire relationship is leaving voicemail messages for someone you’ve never even met. And it is not just talking to anyone we love. If you’ve ever admired someone famous for years and then met them face to face you were probably tongue-tied. In prayer we are talking to the creator and ruler of the universe. No wonder it is hard.
3. How did you choose the “giants” that corresponded with each prayer practice?
They were all people I’d met in my own spiritual journey and my work as a church historian. They had written things that helped me pray. The crucial thing, the thing that ruled out a whole lot of other genuine giants, is this: To be in the book they had to teach or practice a particular way of praying that was different from the others included. They were either the originator of the approach, or famous for it, or a particularly fine example of it. And it had to be a way of praying that other people could try for themselves.
This ruled out a lot of people who had really interesting prayer lives. Take Hildegard von Bingen. One of the most amazing people of the Middle Ages. She was a benedictine abbess, so she surely spent a great many hours praying the divine office. She’s not a distinctive for that approach. I dealt with the divine office in my chapter on St. Benedict who created benedictine monasticism. She also had mystical visions, apparently sparked by migraine headaches. That led to some fascinating writing. However, I couldn’t say “Step one: Have a migraine headache. Step two: Have God grant you a vision.” It can’t be taught or practiced.