In some ways prayer is that in between place. G.K. Chesterton described the difference between talking about prayer and praying as the difference between blowing a kiss and kissing. One communicates an intention, while the other acts revealing desire, commitment and affection. It is not that talking about prayer lacks desire, commitment and affection, but there is a space between the two that must be crossed. When our desire is kindled, our commitment (Could it be resolve?) is strong just enough, the risk to move from talking about to actually participating in prayer happens. Sometimes we know when we have moved across that space (in either direction) and sometimes it seems to just happen and you don’t know exactly how you got to this new place.
MaryKate Morse’s book on prayer, A Guidebook to Prayer: Twenty-Four Ways to Walk With God helps us, and helps me to cross that space and place between talking and praying. I need this because my prayer life has been both enriched in recent years and turned upside down. I have walked the prayer experiences described in this book. I had a unique opportunity to be an Online Facilitator for SFAD 520 Prayer course at George Fox Evangelical Seminary in the Online Learning Community (OLC) Program. I inherited this course from her (I consider it a sacred trust) to teach to first year seminary students in the OLC. There are twenty-six students this semester that will pray the Psalms and experience liturgical prayer, pray ordinary prayers for themselves, practice lectio divina, walk their neighborhoods with blessing prayer, serving prayer, creative prayer, intercessory and healing prayer, and contemplative prayer just to name a few. I will spend a great deal of time this semester talking about prayer, being immersed in the journals of students writing about their prayer experiences and it is oh so easy amidst all of this to think that I am praying.
Morse asserts, “through prayer we know who we truly are and who this God is who loves us.” If we pulled that statement out, rolled it around in examination we would stand back to consider what she has written. To know who we truly are is not always easy. There seem to be parts of us, as we read in The Social Animal last week, where such knowledge is not always easy to bear, nor is it easily understood. If I know who I truly am will God love me? Will God love the ugliness I sense within myself? Sometimes we can feel exposed, not unlike the garden story of Adam and Eve. But something happens as we engage in prayer. Something happens that seems to shape and redefine who we are. Prayer does that. If it is true (and I do believe it is) that spiritual formation and hence our transformation come forth as a call to be conformed to the image of Christ for the sake of others then prayer is not a solitary act, but becomes part of who we are.
We are often encouraged to be the answer to our prayers. Shane Claiborne and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove wrote a book with those words in the title. They are right; we do become the answers to our prayers as we are transformed in prayer. The challenge and opportunity MaryKate presents is for us to re-learn how to experience God in prayer. We are to “love the world as God loves the world.” Rather than lead with our agenda or action assuming God is in it, we do the work of cultivating relationship. We are learning to listen. The brilliance and gift of this book is surely the scope by which we are able to cultivate our relationship with God.
Certainly we are challenged, not by our lack of prayer, but our belief. “Our primary struggle is not a focus on prayer as routine but rather as belief that prayer really matters and that anyone can pray.” At first you want to exclaim, “What? Really?” But then I realize (and maybe you to do) it is true. Listening carefully to people talking about prayer and their prayer lives I realize we lack confidence in prayer. Morse’s questions, “Is it worth it?” and “Can I do it?” sidestep and reorient. Recognizing and helping others to understand the relationship of motivation and ability is actually disarming, just as it might hold the potential for disturbing the status quo. These questions have the potential to foster desire.
This book is my companion this semester, but I think I would be remiss if I did not affirm the theology present in the book. The chapters gather round the person of the Trinity. We are not only cultivating a relationship with God in these prayer experiences, we are learning about whom God is and the dynamic roles and character of God. “Prayer gives us access to the breadth of God’s sovereignty over all things and God’s presence in all things.”
I confess I like routine, when my routine is off my inner life is off. What I have taken away and what I take with me is the gift these prayer experiences provide. By participating in prayer and in a variety of prayer I believe I am more open toward God, to myself and to others. I have come to realize that I pray more now than I did in former times of extended prayer. I am discovering an orientation taking place within me. That surely does not mean I have arrived in prayer (I don’t know that in our human years we ever will!). I struggle at times with my own belief. I am okay with that. There are at least twenty-four ways to walk with God.
 Robert Mulholland,
 Shane Claiborne and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, Beocming the Answer to Our Prayers: Prayer for Ordinary Radicals (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2008).
 Ibid., 17.
 Ibid., 18.