Today’s guest blogger is my father, Rev. Dr. Wilson Felix Haynes, Jr. Pray is my One Little Word for 2023, so I asked him to share several of his favorite volumes on prayer.
The oldest biblical book in our canon contains key questions about life. From Job, we hear this question: “What profit shall we have if we pray unto him?” (Job 21:15). The topic of prayer has been explored by almost every great saint, theologian, and author of the great Christian books. I have procured many of these books, read, and reflected on them. They have left a deep imprint upon my life and thinking. Four of these volumes are particularly noteworthy.
First, I think the single best is The Meaning of Prayer (Association Press, 1916) by Harry Emerson Fosdick, the well-known “liberal” preacher whose pulpit was the Riverside Church of New York City (built by John D. Rockefeller). I read this volume during my Seminary years after the reading of his autobiography The Living of These Days. The book followed a period of depression in Fosdick’s life. Beyond those days, the impact of his life was incredible. This well-arranged book is the best purchase anyone can make to enhance biblical knowledge and provide the very best instruction about prayer. Harry Emerson Fosdick, I am proud am proud to say, has been a vital mentor in my life of continuing education.
The second is The Prayers and Meditations of Samuel Johnson. The first edition was in 1785, and it has been published subsequently in many other editions. The striking thing about this volume is that this testy old doctor was so honest and self-revealing in his “diary” parts of the book. These written prayers may become guiding forces for us in our own journeys. Incidentally, Fosdick quotes Samuel Johnson in the first sentence of his book on the meaning of prayer.
The third volume is The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence (Nicholas Hermon). Brother Lawrence was born in poverty, served as a soldier, and thereafter joined a community of Carmelites in Paris in 1666. He died at age 80, and his letters were published in 1692. The primary essence of Lawrence’s thinking was continued awareness of God. I offer a couple of quotes to whet the appetite to read his letters:
“The most Holy and impactful practice in the spiritual life is the presence of God-that is, every moment to take pleasure that God is with you.” And this: “I have abandoned all particular forms of devotion, all prayer techniques. My only prayer practice is attention. I carry on a habitual, silent and secret conversation with God that fills me with overwhelming joy."
Lawrence’s main job in the monastery was in the kitchen, where the lyrical sounds of pots and pans only elevated his communion with God. He said. “I turn my omelet in the pan for the love of God.” Whenever I’m in the kitchen, I try to model what Brother Lawrence did.
A forth book is Thomas a Kempis’ The Imitation of Christ. Matthew Arnold said, “Next to
the Bible, this is the most eloquent expression of the Christian life ever written.” A classic. Mark Twain once said, “A classic is a book everybody talks about, but nobody reads.” Change your mind on this thought. You can find an audio version of The Imitation of Christ, which greatly enhances the reading process. This is not a book to read from cover to cover, but more of a daily vitamin. Read a portion, percolate on the thoughts, and perhaps journal your impressions. The Imitation of Christ is a compelling meditations journey which prompts prayer – a searching call to imitate the way of Christ, to learn to embrace His virtues, and to stir reflection.