The Womb of Souls' Formation

Book cover
Simple Ways to Prayby Emilie Griffin

Rowman & Littlefield/Sheed & Ward. 192p $17.95


Emilie Griffin was in her 20’s when she was received into the Catholic Church in August 1963 after what she describes as a passionate choice, an upheaval, and a homecoming. She was drawn to the church in part because it offered the possibility of an interior life, a realm in which I would be surrounded by grace.

Since the publication in 1982 of Turning: Reflections on the Experience of Conversion, Emilie Griffin has gained respect for her writings on conversion, prayer and mysticism. In addition to Turning, her highly regarded books include Clinging: The Experience of Prayer, the edited Evelyn Underhill: Essential Writings and Wonderful and Dark Is This Road: Discovering the Mystic Path. Most of her writing and retreat work is ecumenical, focused on the Christ-centered, Spirit-driven, Father-loving prayer that unifies Christians from many churches.

Simple Ways to Pray, by contrast, is about Catholic prayer explicitly, which, as she notes, is but one of the significant parts of Catholic life. The full practice of Roman Catholic faith is expressed not only in prayer but also in service and in sacrament; and Roman Catholic sacraments are reserved for those who are in communion with Rome, and who accept the Roman pontiff as head of Christ’s church.

Thus, though it is modest in size and scope, Simple Ways to Pray serves a catechetical function. It is an invitation to come and see Catholicism through the narrow path that has guided, nurtured and formed countless souls into holy lives.

Emilie Griffin offers a lucid guide to the variety and richness of Catholic prayer. While it is good to learn the many styles of Christian prayer and devotion, the real point of the spiritual life is developing an inner disposition: the continuing conversion and transformation of the heart. This intimate friendship with God can be fostered through practical means (a regular schedule of prayer, frequent attendance at Mass, spiritual reading), but it begins with intentionality. Prayer is intention, a reaching, a stretching toward the desired Other, coming into the heart of God, the Beloved.

God is seeking us out; but we have to cross the distance. It is an act of the will, of the baptized imagination, an act of faith. In one simple stroke we come into the presence of God. This fundamental decision, to come close to God, to speak to God, is the beginning of prayer.

Griffin is an experienced spiritual director and retreat leader, and she offers helpful advice on common questions. Beginners or not, it is helpful to remember that distractions are so common that we should not worry or blame ourselves about them, and it is a good idea to vary your approaches to prayer in order to stay fresh. Most important, Be careful to focus on God and not so much on how you feel about where you are in prayer.

One value of this book is Emilie Griffin’s rich appreciation of all prayer forms and styles. She writes, for example, about the value of intercessory prayer, which strengthens us as a body, links us to one another, and unifies us in Christ. Similarly, she highlights the Christocentric theology that underlies traditional practices like the Way of the Cross (to place yourself with the Lord Jesus in his time of trial, and devotion to the Sacred Heart (...we are asking for God’s love to flow into us. We are asking to become like Jesus in his heartfelt care.)

The chapter on prayer in the Holy Spirit is grounded in the Spirit’s essential role in Christian prayer. [I]t is not hard to pray when the Holy Spirit empowers us. Christian prayer is not always charismatic’ in the sense of being overt, outward, manifested in movement and song. But Christian prayer is always charismatic because the Spirit undergirds and strengthens all our prayer.

As a contemplative in the world, the author is particularly articulate about the practices and gifts of the active contemplative life. Contemplation is not a matter of being in a certain place. It is a matter of moving into the presence of God whenever you can, wherever you are. Contemplation is a matter of attention and of reverence, not of location.

Emilie Griffin is an intellectually and spiritually trustworthy guide to the deepest meaning of prayer, our yearning and our desire for God. This modest book is rooted in solid theology and doctrine and, more important, suffused with a spirit of gratitude and humility. There is not one false note of pride to mar her praise of God, and it is this that confirms Emilie Griffin’s authority. She writes from a soul formed by prayer, and her words reflect the adoration and awe that is the true hallmark of a Catholic contemplative.

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