Prayer: Our Deepest Longing
Prayer: Our Deepest Longing
by Ron Rolheiser
Cincinnati, OH: Franciscan Media, 2013
Reviewed by Amelia Stratton-Smith
Why read another book on prayer when so much has already been said? In this publication Ron Rolheiser, OMI, contributes personal reflections that feel like an old friend showing you around his hometown. This is neither a catalogue of prayer forms nor a how-to manual. With the warmth and authority of one who has thoroughly traversed the landscape, the author engages mind and heart to explore the experience of prayer in personal terms that invite us to bring all of our being into dialog with God.
Pervasive restlessness and discontent propel us into prayer as the vehicle for nurturing intimacy with God, if only we recognize its deeper potential. “Today most of us do not see our restless longing as pushing us toward the infinite. We have trivialized and tamed our longing. Instead of longing for the transcendent, we anesthetize and distract ourselves by focusing our desires on the ‘good life,’ on sex, on money, on success, and on whatever else we think everybody has” (vii). With consistent prayerful attention, our longings point the way into deeper authenticity.
The challenges we encounter in approaching God through prayer are part of the territory. “Prayer is only easy for beginners and for those who are already saints. During all the long years in between, it is difficult” (45). Boredom, busy schedules, misguided expectations, shame, perfectionism, and cultural preoccupation with superficial distractions threaten to derail our good intentions unless we honestly face them in prayer. “These reflections are intended to help you get beyond some of your habitual struggles with prayer, so that it no longer feels as though you are simply doing some drab duty, wasting precious time, talking to a wall, entertaining yet another daydream, or simply rehashing your heartaches and headaches” (viii).
Transformation arising from personal encounters with God’s love is a pervasive theme in these reflections. “Experiencing the unconditional love of God is what prayer, in the end, is all about” (19). The gospel image of Jesus passing through locked doors to comfort his frightened disciples offers reassurance that God’s love penetrates all barriers.
Particularly meaningful to me was a section called “The Domestic Monastery,” in a chapter called “Practicing Affective Prayer.” I appreciated the understanding that “[c]ertain vocations, such as raising children, offer a perfect setting for living a contemplative life. They provide a desert for reflection, a real monastery” (47). Solitude is not always feasible at every time of life, but approaching the intense demands of family life with love and generosity can nevertheless bear the fruit of contemplative commitment.
This slender volume is an excellent resource for personal devotion or small group work. The presentation of material in small units is ideal for incorporating into daily practice or the agenda of a scheduled meeting. Topics such as “Facing our Demons,” “Being Bold in Prayer,” and “Our Need to Celebrate” might provide opening reflections for church meetings or the focus of study groups. Anyone seeking to cultivate and sustain a dynamic prayer life for themselves or those in their care will find bread for the journey in Rolheiser’s words.
Amelia Stratton-Smith, MTS, is a spiritual director and Enneagram teacher in Rochester, New York, USA. She received a diploma in the art of spiritual direction from San Francisco Theological Seminary, San Anselmo, California, USA.