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Honest to God Prayer

Honest to God Prayer: Spirituality as Awareness, Empowerment, Relinquishment and Paradox
by Kent Ira Groff
Woodstock, VT: SkyLight Paths, 2012
155 pages
Reviewed by Jacqueline Leksen

Readers of Presence journal will find enrichment in the pages of this new book by Kent Ira Groff, who draws from his wealth of experience as spiritual director, pastor, retreat leader, and poet to offer lavish resources for our work of spiritual direction and for our own spiritual journeying. In Honest to God Prayer: Spirituality as Awareness, Empowerment, Relinquishment and Paradox, Groff incorporates wisdom from science, his own creativity, and from all major spiritual traditions, showing us how to experience prayer—the honest-to-God yearnings of our hearts (ix)—throughout all the rhythms of our days and years.

The art of spiritual direction is about paying attention, and the book calls us to “listen attentively to the Ground of our being” (15), to “see the bush when it blazes” (17), reminding us that “any experience is occasion for prayer” (17). Groff is a poet who has fun with language in his poetry and in his prose, with a love of words that enfleshes “prayerful, playful ways to tend soul” (18).

Based on the parallels he notices between Native American customs of facing the four directions in prayer and the four weeks of the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises, Groff has divided the book into four themes: “Prayer as Awareness: Opening (facing East, morning),” “Prayer as Empowerment: Expanding (facing South, noontime),” “Prayer as Relinquishment: Emptying (facing West, afternoon),” and “Prayer as Paradox: Integrating (facing North, night).” Each of the four chapters concludes with suggested prayer practices, a deep and rich collection I have been utilizing for myself and with spiritual directees since my first reading. Also particularly helpful is his two-page “Index of Prayer Practices” (vii). This book is bountifully packed with resources for spiritual directors who work with people of all ages, from all traditions.

Groff states: “Empowering prayer means claiming your gifts and embracing your half-buried dreams for the sake of the world” (51). He quotes Annie Dillard, who urges readers to be “giving yourself to your own cause: ‘I think it would be well, and proper, and obedient, and pure, to grasp your one necessity and not let it go” (55). One suggestion for discovering this is to revisit “the dreamy stuff of your youthful years” as a “laboratory for testing your life mission” (58).

As the book takes us through the themes of prayer in each stage of life, readers are urged to protect time for solitude and prayer. Groff calls us to a place of integration, a second naiveté where we “embrace contradiction to create a third way“ (110), a “new kind of spirituality, open to questioning yet passionate with love” (117). He defines this “genuine spirituality” as a rhythm of emptying and expanding, giving and receiving, absence and presence, contemplation and action, holding and releasing (132). His poem “Light Beams” is a prayer to be ignited with “a living flame of love … / that shall surely guide us / better than a known way, / better than a known way” (121).

I will keep Groff’s book at hand to expand my own prayer practices and to use on behalf of those I companion in spiritual direction.

Jacqueline Leksen provides spiritual accompaniment in Seattle and Lynnwood, Washington, USA, where she companions men and women from a wide variety of spiritual traditions, including those who struggle with homelessness. She completed a master’s degree in transforming spirituality at Seattle University, Washington.

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