I love reading about Eastern Orthodoxy, scripture, and nonfiction works that challenge me to expand my view of the world.
Gary Neal Hansen, Kneeling with Giants: Learning to Pray with History’s Best Teachers (Downers Grove: IVP Books, 2012). Pp. 237. Paperback $12.80.
This book came across my desk at the invitation of the author to participate in an online continuing education class for pastors. The focus of the class was learning, and teaching prayer, and this book was the textbook. I’m an Eastern Orthodox priest, and, for a variety of reasons, I wasn’t sure how this particular book would fit into my ministry. The Orthodox Church has a rich tradition of prayer, so I was curious to see how the prayer methods Prof. Hansen wrote about would augment my ancient tradition. My conclusion, after reading the book and taking the class with the author, is that this book has a lot to say to Christians of every tradition!
There are far too many methods to cover in a review such as this, but allow me to write about a few of them.
Prof. Hansen begins his book with St. Benedict and the Divine Office. For many Protestants, this method of prayer is very foreign. However, for me as an Orthodox Christian, it’s very comfortable. I was able to adapt this method to my tradition very easily; as I worked my way through this chapter I simply used the Orthodox Hours instead of the Benedictine Hours. Even though I was using the Eastern version, what Prof. Hansen had to say about learning the rhythm of the hours, and his encouragement to stick with it even the prayers may feel rigid, apply to everyone equally – Orthodox, Catholic, or Protestant.
In chapter four, Prof. Hansen asks us to pray with John Calvin. Before I began this chapter, I thought to myself, “There’s no way I’ll find this chapter helpful.” Yet, low and behold, this became one of my favorite methods of prayer. Generally speaking, the method in this chapter is a form of Lectio Divina, which is not completely foreign to Orthodoxy. What was most helpful were the charts in this chapter, which help one go through scripture in a very studious way. Many people in the modern world practice Lectio Divina in a way that doesn’t take one very deep into the study of scriptures. Prof. Hansen is able to engage the reader and show one how to truly meditate on scripture as the early Christians were taught to do.
In chapter seven, Prof. Hansen asks us to pray with the Puritans, which means praying through journaling. Again I found myself thinking that I’d be very uncomfortable with this method; but, to my surprise, I found this chapter very helpful. The way the exercises are laid out allow one to truly explore the depths of one’s soul. For me, this method of prayer is great for preparing for confession. I can turn to this chapter, and allow my preparation not to be just a listing of my sins, but also an experience of prayer.
The final prayer method I want to comment on is the one found in chapter nine: praying with Agnes Sanford. Sanford’s method of prayer stresses supplication. After reading through the other methods, of it was this method that I found the most troubling, but not because of the type prayer – the Orthodox services have a very large supplicatory aspect; what was troubling for me was the theology of Sanford herself. I would have preferred to stress Christ’s actions more in the process. The point of the book, however, was not to present forms of prayer that work for everyone. The point was to introduce different forms of prayer the Church has used throughout her history so that each reader can discern what works best for him or her. This book acts an in invitation and provides an opportunity for one to grow in one’s Christian walk through prayer. Even though I didn’t like Sanford’s methodology, I was still glad to be introduced to it because she’s had a very big influence on many American Christians, many of whom I interact with daily.
Though a Protestant author wrote this book, don’t let that scare you because this book is written in a way that allows it to speak to all Christians. It does cover methods of prayer used by Catholics (Benedictine Hours, St. Ignatius of Loyola, and St. Teresa Avila), prayers used by Orthodox Christians (the Jesus Prayer), and prayers used by Protestants (Martin Luther, John Calvin, the Puritans, Agnes Sanford, and Andrew Murray). However, I discovered that many of the methods are applicable to any tradition. The only downfall is that if you want the Reader that accompanies this book, you will have to buy the e-book version.