In Silence

In Silence

by Donald Spoto
New York: Viking, 2004

Reviewed by Patrice Fagnant-MacArthur

Donald Spoto, who holds a Ph.D. in theology from Fordham University, starts In Silence: Why We Pray with the premise that prayer is integral to life. "Reflection on our experience . . . is the first and basic kind of prayer. . . . We are as we pray, and our prayer is always in a state of becoming." He discourages the outlook popular in modern culture that prayer is merely a means of self-improvement. When we seek prayer only for its benefit for us, we lose the transcendent longing for God. Prayer begins with us but reaches out for a greater power.

While acknowledging that "the paths to God are as many as there are people," and that "the journey must ultimately be our own," Dr. Spoto focuses on a historical discussion of prayer. He describes both eastern and western modes of prayer, and different methods employed by various saints and mystics. The urge to pray existed long before the establishment of formal religion. "Centuries and perhaps millennia before there was anything like the separate department of life known as religion, there was what might be called a religious sensibility - a sense of the Beyond, that seems to have been as instinctive as breathing, sleeping, and eating."

Chapter Five, "Prayer as Petition" is particularly insightful. Dr. Spoto begins with Augustine of Hippo's statement that due to our "existential dependence," all prayer is essentially petition, "whether we ask for anything or not." Our petitions to God provide us with insight into our own lives in terms of what our priorities are. This chapter contains an in-depth look at "The Lord's Prayer," the standard by which "all Christian prayer may be assessed." In this prayer, we turn over our material needs to God, who knows what our needs are and how best to meet them. "The Lord's Prayer" also offers a cautionary statement in "Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil." In other words, if what we have asked for is not in our eternal interest, please disregard the request! "Where, indeed would I now be if God had granted all the silly, selfish requests I have put before Him?"

Dr. Spoto also dedicates chapters to "Prayer as Suffering," "Prayer as Abandonment," "Prayer as Forgiveness," "Prayer as Loving," "Prayer as Serenity," and "Prayer as Transformation." He concludes with "Prayer as Silence." The overriding theme of this book, however, is that prayer changes us, not God. "Prayer is a dangerous business. Pursued seriously (can it be otherwise?) it will modify the way we think, act, feel, deal with others, work in the world, behold the universe. It will change us in ways we can never have imagined; it will alter our perspective and transfigure our lives."

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