A Year of Living Prayerfully by Jared Brock, Carol Stream: Tyndale House, 2015.
Summary: Jared Brock and his incredibly patient wife Michelle go on a year long pilgrimage that takes them to the Vatican to meet the Pope and to Westboro Baptist Church and many other places alternately delightful and weird in a quest to deepen their prayer life.
OK. I was really prepared not to like this book. It appeared to be a knock-off of A.J. Jacobs’ A Year of Living Biblically and Rachel Held Evans’ A Year of Biblical Womanhood. Frankly, I thought the cover a bit cheesy (although reminiscent of Jacobs’ book).
I was pleasantly surprised. What I found instead was an alternately amusing and thought-provoking spiritual pilgrimage that not only deepened the writer’s prayer life but challenged mine.
Beginning with a conversation that described the movement from crisis praying to kingdom prayer, Brock and his wife embarked on a journey taking him to New York, Israel, Europe, Asia, England and back to his home in Hamilton, Ontario. They began by praying and celebrating Sedar with a group of Orthodox Jews. Daily prayer with the men of the synagogue renews his thirst for prayer.
In Israel they encounter the crassness and commercialism that exploited the center of three major faiths. Brock can only pray for Jerusalem’s shalom, and in that the shalom of the world. He goes to Mt. Athos in Greece and experiences both silence and the Jesus prayer. Then they head off to Italy and through a strange set of circumstances, a meeting with Pope Francis. Francis says that “prayer was opening up your heart to God” and asks them on parting to pray for him. From there, they went on to Spain and hiked a short distance of the Camino in winter and looked in vain for one who received the Campostela (a certificate for hiking the equivalent of 124 miles).God answers their prayer while waiting in line at the airport behind a man who had done just that. He spoke of completing the walk in silence, communing with God. France, the kitchen of Brother Lawrence, and Taize’ were their next major stops. Most moving was the account given them of the assassination of Brother Roger, who founded Taize’, and those who continued the prayers, and extended forgiveness to a woman who did not know what she was doing.
Apart from a Quaker prayer service and an attempt to meet Billy Graham, who was too frail to do so, the next part of the book gets weird. They visit a “nudist church” and meet some very unconventional Christians carrying out ministry to a population few try to reach. They are encouraged on their own to try sitting naked before God in prayer. They meet a physician who prays as well as heals the sick, humbly and with sometimes miraculous results, and then attend a Benny Hinn crusade that seems more about prosperity (at least Benny’s prosperity) than a gospel of healing. Then weirdest of all, they visit a Tony Robbins conference that ends with walking on burning coals. This section closes with a visit to Westboro Baptist Church and the determination to pray down the love of God upon this benighted and hate-filled church.
After a risky journey to North Korea and a visit to Yonggi Cho’s church in Seoul, the Brocks end up in England visiting Keswick, where he finds the photo of a young Scotsman who was one of the first Hundred who followed Hudson Taylor into missions with China Inland Mission. The young Scotsman was his great-great-grandfather. He is challenged by the “boiler room” in Spurgeon’s church–the prayer meeting that fueled Spurgeon’s ministry and the prototype of modern 24/7 prayer. He ends in his home town of Hamilton, at a site of a revival in the 1850s that was part of the Third Great Awakening.
The narrative is broken up with quotes by either the individuals he is meeting or famous “people of prayer”. One of those I appreciated most was this by St. Teresa of Avila: “You pay God a compliment by asking great things of Him.” Brock’s writing style is conversational and even colloquial at places making the book an easy read. Yet I had several “takeaways”:
- The silences as well as our words are important, not only in singing but in prayer.
- Prayer is about communing with God, about being in God’s presence and carrying that through our lives.
- Prayer is something done in and through our embodied life.
- Finally I was struck anew with the transformative power of prayer.
I will close with this quote from Karl Barth found on page 308: “To clasp the hands in prayer is the beginning of an uprising against the disorder of the world.” Perhaps in such a disordered world, living prayerfully may be the sanest response.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”