Word by Word: A daily spiritual practice
Church Times Bookshop £10.80
The Little Book of Prayer Experiments
Church Times Bookshop £9
THE book Word by Word is shaped to enable readers stop and reflect on particular words for a whole week. These words include some familiar ones, such as “Listen”, “Be still”, “Follow”, and “Ask”, but also some less expected ones, such as “Enjoy”, “Resist”, “Dare”, and “Leave”. The section for each word is then divided into seven, for Sunday to Saturday, giving daily reflections of one to two pages in length.
Marilyn McEntyre takes a different angle for each day on the week’s word. For example, the week on “Letting Go” encourages readers to reflect on letting go . . . of self-defeating stories . . . of yesterday’s injuries . . . of the side of the pool . . . of the result, and so on. In this way, the reader cannot easily say “Oh, I know that,” and rush on, but must stay with the word and keep reflecting on it.
The content of each reflection is drawn from the author’s own life experience and from scripture and Christian practice. She is an professor of English, and she illustrates her text with lines from poems, novels, and plays which add richness. I did wonder how much would be missed by readers without a Christian background, and I would like to have explored some of the poems further; so I was a little disappointed that there were no references or bibliography. Nevertheless, I found plenty of wisdom on the practice of living, and am glad to have taken time to read the book.
I suppose the sub-title is correct, in that Word for Word could be a daily spiritual practice. But McEntyre sees these reflections as a complement to centring prayer and lectio divina. In contrast, if you want to explore the spiritual practice of prayer itself, you can try The Little Book of Prayer Experiments.
Prayer Experiments seeks to enable its readers to be active in trying different ways of praying. It started life as a blog for Miranda Threlfall-Holmes’s teenage son, and then became a book for teenagers; but it seems that adults keep borrowing the Experiments; so this is the version for adults.
The prayer practices themselves are largely unsurprising, such as breathing meditation, ACTS of prayer (adoration, confession, thanksgiving, and supplication), the Lord’s Prayer, and praying with your body. For each one, there is an introduction, then instructions on what to do, sometimes a drawing or space to doodle, and always boxes to complete along the lines of “When I tried this experiment . . .”, “The thing I most enjoyed was . . .”, “The time I felt most uncomfortable was . . .”, “One thing I particularly noticed was . . .”, and “Things I would try changing next time”. The layout and the instructions invite us to give it a go.
Helpfully, Prayer Experiments also has a chapter, “How to use this book”, covering its use both by an individual and in groups. I would be happy to recommend this book to someone starting out in prayer. At the same time, my friends with years of experience in prayer feel the need to stretch their prayer practice; so I will suggest we do these experiments together.
Dr Anne Spalding is a member of the Third Order of the Society of St Francis, and lives in Suffolk.