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Praying in the Messiness of Life

Praying in the Messiness of Life: 7 Ways to Renew Your Relationship With God
by Linda Douty
Nashville, TN: Upper Room Books, 2011    
111 pages
Reviewed by Kathryn Madden, CND

Do you ever feel like you procrastinate about your prayer time? Or that you just can’t find time for God no matter how hard you try? Do you wonder if your prayers for others really matter? In her work as a spiritual director, Linda Douty listens to people wrestle with these issues. She herself has felt boxed in by her own prayer life. It was only when her carefully constructed understanding of prayer began to strain at the seams that Douty came to startling clarity about prayer being more about relationship than results.

In Praying in the Messiness of Life: 7 Ways to Renew Your Relationship with God, Douty suggests that we let go of looking for ways of praying right in order to get what we ask for. She nudges us to become more aware of God’s presence in life as it is rather than looking toward some imagined future moment when things settle down. To do this, we are invited to discover practices clustered under seven headings: body, breath, mind, senses, silence, surroundings, and circumstances. Taken together, Douty suggests that these aspects of integrated prayer “form a buffet of choices designed to move prayer from the margins of the mind into the messiness of life” (14).

What about our very human tendency to manipulate God by trying to control the outcome of events? In Douty’s words, “Maybe to say that prayer works really means that we trust God to be with us in a profound and sustaining way, regardless of how things turn out” (22). Writing from a Christian perspective, Douty highlights that we are called to pray as Jesus prayed in all circumstances, trusting that the God who urges us to pray somehow hears our prayers. 

This book is for those of us seeking to pray as we can, not as we think we should pray. It is truly a resource for anyone seeking to learn more about prayer or to lead or guide others in prayer. Spiritual directors and those they companion will enjoy Douty’s sound spiritual wisdom and ways of making prayer real and lightsome. Her eclectic array of prayer practices includes syncopated steps, intentional thought prayer and pause prayer at stoplights, as well as more familiar practices such as breath prayer and centering prayer. I personally delighted in Douty’s account of a woman practicing the “What’s Happening Prayer” by allowing the installation of a new carpet to be a concrete discipline through which her soul could grow. 

When Douty finds herself in a stew, she makes a stew: “In a surprising alchemy of attention, my thoughts are led to explore how my life can be better blended into balance and harmony, what belongs and what doesn’t belong” (53). Douty surely succeeds in offering us spicy and flavorful options for prayer, as well as wonderful guidelines for using the book with a small group and in a retreat context. 

Kathryn Madden, CND, completed spiritual direction training in the Christian Spirituality Program at Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska, USA, and at the Center for Religious Development in Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA. She is currently on the team of the Cenacle Retreat Center in Ronkonkoma, New York, USA.

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