Book of the Month

~by Michele Gregoire

August 2015 Review: Books of Prayer & Reflection

Praying with Julian of Norwich, by Gloria Durka (1989), and Praying with Elizabeth Seton, by Margaret Alderman and Josephine Burns (1992), both parts of the Companions for the Journey Series (no longer in print), published by Saint Mary’s Press, Christian Brothers Publications, Winona, Minnesota; and The Joy of Co-Operating with God, by Susi Pittman (2009), Twin Oaks Publishing.

This month as those of us who are tied to the academic calendar prepare to return to our schools for another year of teaching, learning, and administering we are closing out another summer, a time of relaxed schedules and ideally more opportunity to enrich our prayer lives. With the frenzy of another school year beginning it is easy for one’s dedication to prayer and devotion to lose priority in the usual heavily scheduled business of the academic world. Therefore, in considering the need to maintain time for daily prayer, the books I have selected for this review are directly helpful to guide regular and fruitful praying, something that everyone can appreciate and find useful. Unfortunately, the two books published by Saint Mary’s Press are no longer available; a search of their website turns up none of them nor the series. Both of mine were giveaways, one at my Cursillo weekend and the other from our parish library ministry. Look for these small books (just over 100 pages) in your church and parochial school book sales or book swaps if such events are ever held in your parishes. The third booklet is very brief, but really just the perfect size for prayer focus, and it is a more recent publication by our Catholic Stewards of Creation founder, Susi Pittman, making it of special interest to the readers of this column.

The Companions for the Journey books are both organized in the same way, with an Introduction followed by Meditations, which include several chapters that focus on a particular element of the saint’s teachings and practices. The books conclude with a short bibliography section featuring additional reading materials. In Praying with Julian of Norwich, author Durka gives background and history on Julian’s life that supports and summarizes what will be presented in the Meditations. She also moves through the major facets of Julian’s published revelations, entitled Showings. Additionally, the Introduction provides direction in how to use the material, by reading meditatively and reflecting. The purpose is to take the reader through the process of meaningful prayer in the style of Julian while providing the rudiments of her teaching. For example, she informs us that Julian expressed a rare understanding in fourteenth century theology that God has unbounded love of all creation; every human person has ultimate significance, and Creation itself has ultimate worth. The titles of meditations follow directly her spirituality and prayer practice. The book’s meditations begin with ‘God is Our Mother’ to show Julian’s conceptualization of God as not just Father but also our caring and loving Mother and is immediately followed by ‘Why We should Pray.’ Just the titles of each meditation are directions to contemplation, as these examples suggest: God Alone Suffices; We All Need to be Loved and to Love; Nothing Can Separate Us from God’s Love; Recognizing Goodness; We Are God’s Work of Art; Trusting Prayer When God Seems Absent; and All Shall Be Well, the last chapter of meditations and the saying that is most commonly associated with Julian of Norwich. Earnestly following the guidelines and exercises in this book will engage one fully and actively, leading to very gratifying prayer.

The same format and approach is followed in the Alderman and Burns book, Praying with Elizabeth Seton. The authors provide the background and history of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton and offer the basics of her religious practice and teachings. Those key aspects associated with Mother Seton are clearly identified and focused upon in the meditations included. For example: Prayer without Ceasing; Christ’s Presence in the Eucharist; Loving Service; Forgiving and Unselfish Love; Mary, Mother; Parenting; Children of the Church; and finally, Hope in the Resurrection. Throughout these two slim volumes the authors of both provide several questions to guide prayerful meditation, suggest active journaling in response to posed questions, and offer scriptural passages at the end of each chapter before the brief closing prayer. It is quite providential that the Holy Spirit brought both of these little books to me because Julian of Norwich and Mother Seton are two of my very favorite holy people and I feel a great closeness to both. And, it’s interesting that these are the only two books in the series that I have ever come across; thus, I feel most fortunate to have acquired them.

The third prayer book I want to recommend is Susi Pittman’s ‘The Joy of Co-Operating with God.’ This short booklet was written after completion of Animals in Heaven: Catholics Want to Know and is a prayerful reflection on the process of writing her book and how she was spiritually changed by that experience. Cooperation is the focal point of the booklet, and the first exposition after the Introduction is a short treatise on cooperation with other humans and with God, setting forth the theme. Subsequent sections address serving the will of God, prayer, having faith, being led by the Holy Spirit, the Eucharist, spiritual transformation, and concluding with the Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi. It is a personal prayer journey, with insights that emerged for the author which she chose to share with others through publishing this booklet.

Books to help guide prayer are numerous and readily available from the many religious publication sources, Catholic bookstores, monasteries, and parish shops. One has only to peruse the abundant offerings to find suitable options for maximizing prayer. We can learn to deepen our prayer life with the help of all the many available publications that exist for just that purpose. I hope the brief reviews of these three little books will encourage the use of prayer guides as an aid to a more directed and fruitful time spent with our Lord.

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Dr. Michele Gregoire has been Chair of the Education Department at Flagler College since 2004 and a member of the faculty since 1988. She came to Flagler College from Georgia College in Milledgeville where she had been Director of Music Therapy for four years and prior to that she spent one year in the same capacity at Willamette University in Salem, Oregon. Dr. Gregoire earned her bachelor’s degree in Music Therapy at Florida State University, her master’s degree in Music at California State University at Long Beach, and her doctoral degree in Special Education at the University of Florida. She has conducted research and published articles related to music therapy and special music education, consistently maintains a strong record of professional conference presentations, and her current interests are historical research in music education, special education, and music therapy.

Dr. Gregoire has been involved in several professional organizations throughout her career, and has served in leadership capacities in most of them. She worked for ten years as a clinical music therapist and director of internship, specializing in developmental disabilities, at the beginning of her career and continues to provide consultation in both music therapy and special education to individuals and organizations.

Visit Michele’s BOOK OF THE MONTH ARCHIVE

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