A little book on prayer

A few years back a friend of mine referred me to a wonderful little book on prayer. The book is “Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers,” by Anne Lamott. Lamott is the author of “Bird by Bird,” a classic work on the writing life.

“There’s something to be said about keeping prayer simple,” Lamott writes in the Prelude to her book. A simple formula for prayer that is used by many is based on the acronym ACTIP, which stands for:

  • Adoration (praising God): Lamott’s “Wow”,
  • Confession (confessing my sins),
  • Thanksgiving (thanking God): Lamott’s “Thanks”,
  • Intercession (asking God to help others), and
  • Petition (asking God to help me).

Lamott’s chapter on “Help” encompasses both Intercession and Petition.

The Old Testament Book of Psalms is a collection of prayers – of these five kinds, and of many other kinds as well. It has been a cornerstone of prayer and worship for Jews and Christians for centuries. In this review I thought it would be helpful to point out the correspondence between Lamott’s book and some classic Psalms. All of the Biblical quotations that I use are taken from the Revised Standard Version, Second Catholic Edition (RSV-2CE).

In Lamott’s first chapter, “Help”, she writes movingly about the many catastrophes that she has suffered, and those that have befallen her friends, and members of her family. “Where do we even start on the daily walk of restoration and awakening?” she writes. Psalm 25 puts it this way: “Turn thou to me God, and be gracious to me; for I am lonely and afflicted.”

In Lamott’s second chapter, “Thanks”, she makes an interesting connection between gratitude and service. She writes: “Gratitude begins in our hearts and then dovetails into behavior. It almost always makes you willing to be of service, which is where the joy resides. It means you are willing to stop being such a jerk.”

Two of the many classic Psalms of Thanksgiving are Psalm 9 and Psalm 18. From Psalm 18: “Thou hast given me the shield of thy salvation, and thy right hand supported me … Thou didst give a wide place for my steps under me, and my feet did not slip.”

In the introduction to her third chapter, “Wow”, Lamott writes: “’Wow’ is about having one’s mind blown by the mesmerizing or the miraculous: the veins in a leaf, birdsong, volcanoes.” This feeling is expressed in a beautiful way in Psalm 29: “The voice of the Lord is powerful, the voice of the Lord is full of majesty. The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars, the Lord breaks the cedars of Lebanon.”

Finally, in Matthew Chapter 6, Jesus taught us, “Do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” He then proceeded to give us the Lord’s Prayer.

I highly recommend Lamott’s book – and the Book of Psalms – to anyone looking for ways to enrich their prayer life.

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