With the exception of the guttural, instinctive prayer of desperation, I generally find prayer to be excruciatingly difficult. I begin and instantly find myself wracked with doubt about the veracity of my prayer, the appropriateness of my prayer, and the true motivation for my prayer. I worry about my posture, I worry about worrying, and I wonder, again, if I’m praying correctly. In short order, my mind wanders to other, more “practical” endeavors such as demands of work, family, children and, oddly enough, church. Rarely have I ever felt that my prayers have connected with God in a way in which I knew He heard them in anything more than an intellectual way. It is within that context that Beginning to Pray by Anthony Bloom reached me in a powerful and unexpected way.
I think the power of Bloom’s book for those who struggle with prayer comes from the dawning awareness that prayer isn’t a way of doing, but a way of being. Yes, Bloom discusses the type of prayer that most of think of, that of the bended knees and folded hands. But he expands it to the way we approach the world and those around us and of course, to the way in which we relate to God. With regard to our lives Bloom writes, “God is prepared to be outside it, He is prepared to take it up completely as a cross, be He is not prepared to be simply part of our lives.” I have heard sermons along these lines so many times that it has almost become cliché. Bloom however, writes as a man who is too sincere to engage in cliché. Instead he elegantly illustrates how prayer allows God to be more than simply part of our lives. He explains that as our lives become prayer filled, our lives also become God filled. Bloom also makes the convicting observation that the absence of prayer in our lives necessarily also means the absence of God. That conviction is made all the more painful when we realize that the absence of God in our lives is our fault, even though we so often put the blame on God Himself.
The antidote to the absence of God in our lives, according to Bloom, comes down to weakness and humility. Many of us, Americans particularly, bristle as these concepts believing that we are too strong for either, but Bloom writes, “Weakness is not the kind of weakness which we show by sinning and forgetting God, but the kind of weakness which means being completely supple, completely transparent, completely abandoned in the hands of God. We usually try to be strong and we prevent God from manifesting His power.” He goes on to explain, “Humility is the situation of the earth. The earth is always there, always taken for granted, never remembered, always trodden on by everyone, somewhere we cast and pour out all the refuse, all we don’t need. It’s there, silent and accepting everything and in a miraculous way making out of all the refuse new richness in spite of corruption, transforming corruption itself into a power of life and a new possibility of creativeness, open to the sunshine, open to the rain, ready to receive any seed we sow and capable of bringing thirtyfold, sixtyfold, a hundredfold out of every seed.”
In Anthony Bloom’s opinion these notions of weakness and humility are what is required for our lives to become prayer and for God to become more than part of our lives: suppleness, able to be moved by God; humility: willing to accept whatever God pours on, good or bad. When transposed over my struggles with prayer it becomes clear that I remain rigid and proud in my faith. Bloom provides an alternative perspective that is infinitely more consistent with who and what Christ is, suggesting that our reconciliation with God is probably dependent on approaching Him in weakness and humility.
As if his assault on my being wasn’t sufficient thus far, Anthony Bloom then discusses the obstacles that possessions and our relationships with them create between us and God. Here too, Bloom knocks me breathless by asking, “Have you never noticed that to be rich always means an impoverishment on another level?” For someone seeking a loophole in his weakness/humility argument, this pithy line is the death knell. Bloom’s unrelenting, impeccable argument continues, “We cannot live a life of prayer, we cannot go ahead Godwards, unless we are free from possession in order to have two hands to offer and a heart absolutely open – not like a purse which we are afraid of keeping open because our money will drop out of it, but like an open and empty purse – and an intelligence completely open to the unknown and the unexpected. This is the way in which we are rich and yet totally free from richness. And this is the point at which we can speak of being outside the Kingdom and yet be so rich inside and yet also so free.”
Beginning to Pray by Anthony Bloom is one of those rare books that upon reading it I felt a deeper understanding of the nature of our relationship with God and found that relationship enhanced. Prayer continues to be a struggle for me, but in Beginning to Pray Bloom has shown me a way to begin tearing down some of my own walls that prevent God from approaching me.