Book Review: When You Can’t Pray by Finbarr Lynch

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The cover of the book 'When you can't pray'

Book review by Mary Judge O Dwyer 

When You Can’t Pray is a sequel to Finbarr Lynch’s SJ first book When You Pray. In When You Can’t Pray Fr. Lynch helps us to understand what happens when we draw close to God, when God draws close to us and gives us more of Himself in our personal prayer time. This can come about when prayer as we know it no longer seems to satisfy our longing. This book will lead us to a new depth in our relationship with God. We are drawn beyond words beyond our familiar long prayers, meditations, rosaries and devotional prayers of many words. This journey is open to all the baptized who are willing to give time, to trust and to listen to the great gift we have been given.  The question is, however, are we willing to take the long journey from the head to the heart and in so doing respond to such a loving and personal God?

There is little time for prayer or reflection in our day because of the of the hectic way we live. Fr. Lynch describes the inner journey of personal growth coupled with growth in prayer. The journey starts when our desire to grow deeper, to get to the place beyond words, is greatest. We will have already grown in a personal relationship with God and cannot live our lives without Him. We are more realistic about our world, less demanding on others, more forgiving and more generous in love as a result. We are on the journey and are being allured by the Lord to give him more of our heart in prayer and in daily life.

But, as Finbarr Lynch writes here, “Your preparation for prayer is how you live outside prayer, your attitudes, and choices you make, in your daily life, are what bring you to prayer. They dispose you for prayer, or impede prayer. How you are in your heart is your preparation.”

Fr Lynch takes his readers slowly through the various stages. This is not a book to rush. I recommend reading this book with a group, one chapter weekly. The group sharing is most helpful in leading us to understand the little steps we need to take to arrive at the final place, contemplative prayer, where we find ourselves in the hands of God. To enter fully into that inner life through prayer is to reach that final “island of peace”, where prayer wells up, often turning to an intense flame at times.

“Contemplative prayer is,” however, “never mastered, for God, who gives prayer, is always greater. In prayer, one dances with the Lord, who leads the dance ……. The important thing is the relationship with God, and this is 24 hours a day.

The shape of ones “prayer will arise from the shape of the relationship “[i]. The author makes clear that we need to continue to let ourselves be formed by Jesus outside of prayer by our active reflection on Scripture and by spiritual reading.  Everything we do is a preparation for prayer– our devotional prayers, Masses, Rosaries, work and free time.

As we make our way on the journey of prayer we are brought face to face with the experience of the Cross in life. We discover from the example of Jesus that the Cross is a place where Christ is present and waiting for us. It is here that prayer and life grow to match each other and we can say, “I want to want only what the Lord wants”[ii].  The author reminds us that this part of the journey can go on for years.

Peter Costello in his review on this book on prayer for the Irish Catholic said “As regards that life outside, there was an old saying, derived from St Benedict: laborare est orare. Benedict supposed prayer, work and study to be equally important. But study should be more than reading over the past, it must be a preparation for making things new.  Prayer should call us not to repeat the past, but to create the future. When You Can’t Pray will guide people to this end.”[iii]

Book Reviewer: Mary O’Dwyer

This book is available from Messenger Publications (2016).

[i] WHEN YOU CAN’T PRAY   Finbarr Lynch  Messenger Publications   P 132

[ii] Ibid P 116

[iii] Peter Costello  in “The Irish Catholic “  August 18th 2016

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