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Pray as You Can: A Short Primer

Pray as You Can: A Short Primer
by Mary Clare Vincent, OSB
Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 2011
64 pages
Reviewed by Greg Richardson

Sister Mary Clare Vincent writes about prayer directly, honestly, and clearly. She is warm and caring, and she wastes very little time or effort in her short primer of fifty pages of text. Chapters are designed around questions including “Why Pray?,” “How and When Should I Pray?,” “How Can I Pray Better?,” and “What about Distractions?,” among others.

Vincent served as the prioress of a community of Benedictine nuns in Petersham, Massachusetts, USA. She originally published this collection of her conferences on prayer thirty years ago at the urging of people who had participated in her conferences or received spiritual direction from her. Now retired as prioress, she is stillmuch in demand as a spiritual director and counselor. M. Basil Pennington, OCSO, and Esther de Waal both write enthusiastic forewords in this new edition.

The insights in Pray as You Can are drawn from a life in the contemplative Christian tradition and a life in the Roman Catholic Church. Using the examples of scriptureand of the desert mothers and fathers, Vincent gives tangible advice to people who want to learn more about praying.

When I read Pray as You Can,I feel as if I am talking with a desert amma. Many sentences carry a depth of meaning and insight. For example, the first sentence in the book is “A life without prayer doesn’t work” (1). And another: “When weturn to God in prayer, we turn to one who is already within us and waiting” (4). In the chapter “How Can I Pray Better?” Vincent writes, “We must learn to stay in touch with the Spirit to discover which path to follow in our approach to the center of our life wherein we find God. It isn’t always easy. There are definite indications given to guide us” (23). Vincent describes a way to test whether we are on an authentic journey of prayer. Shewrites, “We know we are advancing in prayer when we see the face of the suffering Christ in our neighbors, when we see how wonderful most people are, when we respect the mystery in each other, when prayer renews and revitalizes every part of our life, including the most ordinary and the least undramatic” (32). The last chapter, “Am I Called to Contemplation?,” describes the process of centering prayer and offers encouragement to explore the contemplative aspect of prayer.

Pray as You Can is a powerful tool for spiritual directors. As we accompany people who struggle with prayer or seek a clearer understanding of their spiritual lives, this book will be ahelpful resource, providing reassurance and insight. It will help people recognize andappreciate the challenges they face and understand their next potential steps. I particularly appreciate the way the book is organized around the conversations and wisdom of people who pray and who have prayed for hundreds of years. Vincent quotes and refers to a wide variety of Christian writers, and she points readers in the direction offurther reading and exploration. I have learned a great deal from the depth of her understanding of contemplative prayer and life.

Pray as You Can is an excellent place to begin reading about prayer, and for everyone on a contemplative journey of prayer.

Greg Richardson is a spiritual director and leadership coach in Pasadena, California, USA. He is also a lay oblate with New Camaldoli Monastery near Big Sur, California.

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