I don't enjoy many books about prayer. That doesn't mean there aren't any good ones, just that I'm not sure one ever helped me to pray more, or better. I'd rather have a book of prayers that have been composed, written and prayed in language rich with those human experiences out of which prayer erupts, or is dragged, or writes itself in word and emotion that is the human heart seeking encounter with the heart of God.
When a renowned philosopher whose works on Theism are mind stretchingly challenging decides to explore the basis of Christian prayer, then I don't expect another how to manual, nor another here's my experience, it was great and I'd like you to have it too bestseller. Which is good - because this book is quite different. Owen is unafraid of the theological and philosophical questions raised by our praying - telling God what God already knows, asking for what is in our own interests, establishing any causal connection between our praying and whatever happens that we perceive as an answer to prayer. The main thrust of the book is that prayer is best, perhaps only, understood, in the light of our doctrine of God and our theological conception of what a human being is, and what the relations between God and humanity are, should be and perhaps must be.
I learned so much from this book - The Basis of Christian Prayer, H P Owen (Regent College Pubblishing). Not about how to pray but about what prayer is, about the One to whom prayer is offered, and about the relational interchange that takes place between God and those who dare, and who desire, to address the God who first addresses us. "Prayer validates a personal, as against a non personal view of God. In prayer we address God as Thou." A page later (p.111) Owen quotes a most moving prayer of Anselm, from the Proslogion:
O God, I pray, let me know and love you
so that I may rejoice in you.
And if I cannot in this life fully,
let me advance day by day
until the point of fullness comes.
Let knowledge of you progress in me here,
and be made full there.
Let love for you grow in me here,
and be made full there,
so that here my joy may be great with expectancy
while there being full in realisation.
If there is such a thing as an eschatological spirituality, Then Anselm has gifted to the church a prayer that holds the Christian heart in that creative tension between now and then, here and there, Thou - and I.
Durer's Praying Hands (above) suffers from over-exposure on Christian kitsch products fro m wall plaques to plastic models. But in the original etching the artist combines beauty with beseeching, peace with tension, surrender and expectancy - and few images are more evocative of our humanity than our hands, with which we make and caress, hold and relinquish, clench and open, embrace or exclude. To lift up holy hands in prayer, is therefore no straightforward spiritual exercise.