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Learning to Pray

A Guide for Everyone

By James Martin
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Learning to Pray by James Martin

Learning to Pray (2021) unpacks one of the most important yet misunderstood aspects of spiritual life: prayer. What’s the purpose of prayer? How do you pray “correctly?” What should you expect when you pray? These are just some of the questions that often stand between believers and this deeply rewarding practice. And there’s no better way of answering them than by looking back through the different styles and rituals of prayer found in the Christian tradition. 

Key idea 1 of 8

Prayer is for everyone.

Let’s face it: prayer can be daunting. If you’ve never prayed before, you might not know where to start or what to expect. And if you have tried, you might have come up against the most common stumbling block of all – the feeling that you’re not doing it “correctly.” 

But here’s the thing: like swimming or riding a bike, praying isn’t something you just do spontaneously. Whether you’re an ordinary person or a holy individual like Mother Teresa, prayer is something that has to be learned. The good news is, everyone can.

The key message in this blink is: Prayer is for everyone. 

Everyone is capable of praying – the author believes that devoutly. But he also knows what it’s like to struggle with prayer.

While he grew up with religion, true spirituality played a limited role in his early life. His family went to church on Sundays and said grace before meals. The kids attended after-school religious education classes. But neither God nor their relationship with him were discussed very often. There was something missing; God was present, but he felt distant at the same time. 

In short, the author didn’t feel like he had a personal connection with God. This sense shaped his understanding of prayer. Until his late twenties, he only prayed when he needed help. If he approached God, it was to ask for an “A” on a test, a home run in Little League, or a raise at work. 

Now, there’s nothing wrong with asking God for help – that’s a natural and deeply human instinct. But our relationship with God can also be richer and more profound. 

But how? The author discovered the answer to that question after joining the Jesuits, a Catholic religious order, when he was 27. After entering the Jesuit novitiate – the period of training novices undergo before taking their vows – he realized that there wasn’t a single “correct” way of praying. In fact, there were hundreds of different ways of praying, and just as many ways of understanding prayer. 

Praying, in other words, is flexible. That’s because, above all, it’s about developing your personal relationship with God. It doesn’t have to be formulaic for the simple reason that your relationship with God isn’t formulaic. Prayer really is for everyone. To grasp this aspect of prayer is a truly life-altering experience.

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