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It takes all sorts, as they say

24 March 2009

There’s nothing more personal than prayer, Sarah Hillman finds

Personality and Prayer: Finding the prayer style that suits you
Ruth Fowke
CWR £6.99
Church Times Bookshop £6.30

THESE two books are very different from each other. Ruth Fowke’s Personality and Prayer follows a well-trodden path. Using the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) as the basis for her reflections on matching prayer styles to one’s character, she introduces her readers to various ways of communicating with God, and outlines simply how each might suit different people.

Each chapter focuses on either one of the MBTI personality traits or on the two that go together on opposite ends of the spectrum. She steers clear of the usual phrasing; so instead of “judging” and “perceiv­ing”, for instance, the reader is intro­duced to “those with an organised lifestyle” and “those with a flexible lifestyle”.

At the end of each section, she summarises her main points, gives ideas for further reflection and prayer exercises, and offers suggestions for pitfalls to avoid.

This would be a helpful guide to a complete beginner. I have read many similar books attempting to do the same thing. Whether there is room for another one is a question I have pondered while reading this, but on balance I think this would meet the needs of those who know little about MBTI and who have never been introduced to the idea that different types of prayer suit different personalities. At its heart, the book speaks from the author’s own experience of struggling with prayer and the positive effect on her spiritual life when she found a way of praying that suited her.

Marilyn McCord Adams’s book contains 258 prayers, written in an open and chatty style. For the pur­poses of this book, she defines prayers as “personal sharing be­tween human beings and God”. In her mind is Jesus’s invitation to enter the Kingdom of heaven as a child, and she pictures trusting, curious children at ease with them­selves, aged between seven and ten years old.

Most of the prayers were origin­ally written for evensong at Christ Church, Oxford; many people com­mented positively on their inclusion in this traditional service. They are arranged in three sections: opening the self to God, faith seeking under­standing, and caring for God’s world.

Prayers open with sentences such as “O God, sometimes we are so tired from overwork and stress and lack of sleep that it hurts physically. Perspective vanishes. Patience is exhausted”; and “O God, what we really want deep down is to be safe and to be loved. We want some people to know us for who we are, to appreciate and ‘cheerlead’ our potential. . .”

Like Fowke, she recognises that there are different types of prayer for different people and different situations. These don’t appeal to me — but then perhaps that’s because of my personality. No doubt others will find them helpful.

The Revd Sarah Hillman is Priest-in-Charge of Barkway, Reed and Buck­land with Barley, in Hertfordshire.

To order this book on CT bookshop click here.

To order this book on CT bookshop click here.

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