When You’re Anxious about Praying – Book Review of “Flee, Be Silent, Pray”
How’s your spiritual life going?
Do you think you don’t do enough? Don’t read your Bible enough? Don’t even pray enough?
And if you get in the quantity, is your quality good enough?
These issues can haunt us as Christians.
- When a church near my house put “Centering Prayer—Wednesday Mornings” on their front billboard, I wondered if it would be a good thing for me to join or too weird?
- When a local monastery offered a Silent Prayer Retreat, I wondered if I could do that or would it drive me crazy?
- And when I read about mindfulness practices, I wondered if it was possible to do that 20 minutes a day with my Christian faith without being a Buddhist?
Ed Cyzewski addresses those kinds of questions in his latest book, Flee, Be Silent, Pray: An Anxious Evangelical Finds Peace with God through Contemplative Prayer, based on Henri Nouwen’s three actions in The Way of the Heart.
Ed pulls from a variety of sources (inspiring me to read more Thomas Merton books).
But he also shares very personally, drawing from his own background after a grudge (he resolves) with a restrictive Catholic Church and then a fight (he resolves this too) against an evangelical angst of doing things “right.”
While he doesn’t intend this book to be a how-to guide for prayer—he doesn’t want to add to a to-do list—he does offer many tangible suggestions on how we can pray more by praying differently.
“Evangelical anxiety focuses on results and progress, but God is more concerned about loving presence.”
Get Out of Your Own Way
Here are just a few of Ed’s suggestions on praying more contemplatively taken from his book.
- Let go of your own words
We don’t always have to use our own words. We can still convey our own thoughts through the words of others. Too often we think God only wants our “freestyle” prayers, but he can be just as pleased when we pray a Psalm, for example.
- Pray with scripture.
- Use words Jesus prayed.
- Pray through others’ words written through the years.
“We have nothing to prove, to defend, or to fight for when we pray with the scriptures. We are only devoting ourselves to God. We aren’t in charge of producing results.”
~ * ~
“We don’t read the Bible in order to know ‘the Bible’ or to improve ourselves spiritually. We read the Bible in order to be present with God.”
~ * ~
“[Enter] into prayer with the foundational truth that God loves us. Prayer is the practice of becoming present for that love. We cannot impress God with our many words or few words.”
- Examine your thoughts
Ed highly recommends using the Examen, a spiritual practice from St. Ignatius in the 1500’s.
- 1-Become aware of God’s presence.
- 2-Review the day with gratitude.
- 3-Pay attention to your emotions.
- 4-Choose one feature of the day and pray from it.
- 5-Look toward tomorrow.
Because of Ed’s passion for practicing the Examen (after three months it “completely blew his mind”), I reloaded on my phone the Examine app that he recommends.
I also bookmarked the Divine Hours online after he suggested it. (See it here at Vineyard Church Ann Arbor.)
Praying through the Examen and the Divine Hours are ways to be present to God that Protestants don’t often use. But they are valuable, especially when they help us release our expectations of getting “results” from prayer.
- Go quiet altogether
Try silence. Contemplative prayer invites us to let go of our words altogether. Our own words are often one of our biggest distractions.
“I have learned that while silence is something we can learn to value and even crave, it doesn’t happen by accident. It calls for intention and discipline supported by simple spiritual practices.”
Centering Prayer is one form of silent prayer that Ed explains as a “simple way to be lovingly present for God.”
Why Contemplative Prayer?
It realigns our expectations of what prayer can be.
“God’s Spirit is already in us, and we can’t improve on God’s presence. We can only improve on being present for God, turning away from our distractions.”
It’s not meant to necessarily replace other disciplines or forms of prayer, but as an addition to any spiritual practice.
“One evangelical generation after another earnestly studies the scriptures in search of Jesus, trying to get past the fact that Jesus said studying the scriptures is not the same thing as pursuing him. Contemplative prayer gives us that path to pursue Jesus and Jesus alone.”
And my wonderings about the Centering Prayer group, the retreat at Sacred Heart Monastery, and the meditation practice?
I gave them all a try. And loved each one.
None were a slippery slope to anywhere except into more awareness of the presence of God.
A greater awareness of God is where I want to end up anyway.
“Each time I pause to become aware of God, face my thoughts, and look for the ways that God has been at work in my day, I open myself to God’s power and presence.”
I’m looking forward next to more mindfulness practice beginning Monday with my in-person book club. We’ll begin discussing The Power of Now, one of my favorites.
By trusting God with the present moment we’re in, we become more peaceful. We receive his grace more freely. We worry less about the past or about the future.
And that’s what I hear Ed affirming to us in his book about contemplative prayer.
“We have to train our minds to sit still and learn how to be fully present for God in the now. We won’t find God by dwelling on the regrets of the past or worrying about the future. If we want to find God, we must train ourselves to be in the present moment.”
Rest in the presence of God—there we find peace, transformation, and love.
* * *
Have you wondered about contemplative prayer also? Have you experimented with it? Please share in the comments.
You can connect with Ed at edcyzewski.com.
Read some of Ed’s blog posts about contemplative prayer:
- What Would God Shout at You from a Cloud?
- Is There Hope for Anxious, Doubting, and Burned Out Christians?
- Is Contemplative Prayer Dangerous? Evangelicals and the Fear of Contemplation
Ed’s other books are also great faith resources. I’ve benefited by all I’ve read. Here are just a few that I’ve shared about.
- The Contemplative Writer: Loving God through Christian Spirituality, Meditation, Daily Prayer, and Writing
- Pray, Write, Grow: Cultivating Prayer and Writing Together
- A Christian Survival Guide: A Lifeline to Faith and Growth
- Unfollowers: Unlikely Lessons on Faith from Those Who Doubted Jesus
Thanks to Ed for letting me read an advance copy.
- Is Your Phone Changing You?
- You’re Not Ready? Show Up Anyway
YES!! I went on a contemplative prayer retreat a few years ago and it changed my life and the way I relate to God. I have really appreciated Ed’s emails over the years and can’t wait to read this book. It makes me sad that in general, evangelicals are afraid of these practices. Why be afraid of silence and sitting with the Lord? I haven’t been able to do the Examen consistently but appreciate it deeply.
I’m glad to find a kindred spirit, Aimee. I still hear negative things about these kinds of practices from others, but I believe it’s mainly out of lack of knowledge or misinformation. Hopefully we can continue to spread the word that Christians don’t have to be scared of contemplative practices but can embrace them. I know they’re not for everybody, but they’re definitely for my personality type! 🙂 I’m glad you read Ed’s stuff too. I really enjoy his thought processes and the way he makes himself vulnerable through his words. I’m not sure how consistent I will be with the Examen either; I’ve tried it before for a month and then stopped. But we’ll see. Thanks for sharing here!
I love this idea. How can it be a bad thing to practice silence? Whatever comes from it is most likely better than all of the noise and craziness.
Exactly, Jodie. No need to fear silence, although many people do. Being more introverted than extroverted, I happen to appreciate silence when I can get it! 🙂
I’ve taken to praying the Examen before going to sleep each night, and I love what it is doing in my heart.
And I need to read some of Ed’s work — I keep seeing his name here and there, but have never even visited his blog. Heading over there now.
I’m glad to hear that you pray the Examen, Michele. I don’t know how consistent I will be with it, but I would love to give it a fair shake. It is encouraging to me to know that you are doing it, too.
This sounds so good. Having the demands of caring for young children and an ailing parent I crave silence and to be closer to God, to abide in Him. This post spoke to me and I’ll be checking more into Ed’S writings.
Sorry I’ve been absent from blogging, summer time is a fun challenge.
Yes, I imagine your time and energy is in much demand. These sandwich-generation years can be difficult. Even if you can’t read the book, Ed’s posts might speak some rest into your soul! May God give blessings to you for these important family ministries, TC.
This is so me. I need this book. I downloaded that app and bookmarked that page – just like you did. very excited. My daughter recently moved closer to Ann Arbor – we may need to check out that church. The lesson I keep learning about contemplative prayer is not to rush it. I do best with 20-30 minutes. I know God loves me no matter how long and I try not to get legalistic but it seems to take that long to settle into hearing him and quieting my soul.
I know; I have to remind myself often that it’s not about the results from contemplative prayer but just spending time with God. It’s hard to break out of our Western mindset. 🙁 But we are getting there. I’ve been trying to do the Divine Hours the past few days, but whew, it’s a lot. I may scale it down to something that is more reasonable to get started.
I did the divine hours great while on retreat but slowly faded once home. I know some people do them 3-4 times a day when home. I set timer on my phone too so most days at least pause for prayer but far, far from really practicing this discipline. A challenge…
It’s nice to be back again. Ed’s name sounds familiar. Is he a blogging friend of Floyd’s too? How did you hear about his book?
I liked both of your ideas on praying Scripture. I have found praying God’s words back to him to be very powerful in my life.
I’ve been reading Ed’s blog and books the past few years. He’s very open and honest about how his own path has altered through the years, so I find his words encouraging to me on my own faith journey. I don’t know if he is a blogging friend of Floyd’s as well, but I wouldn’t be surprised if so. Hope you’ve been doing well! I see that you’ve been very busy with so much going on in your family.
In a place where it is hard to find words in prayer this post intrigued me. I’m definitely going to look at the Examen App. Thank you Lisa.
I hope the app will be able to move you through this season, Patti. You can spend as much or as little time with the app as your day allows.
Thank you for sharing all of this great information! I have prayed through the hours at different times in my life, and found such a sweet presence of God there, in the same way that I have found Him recently as I’ve been stretching through the Centering/Silent prayer practice. A friend has recently been talking with me about the Examen Practice also, so I guess it’s time for me to look into this more now! Thanks for the email link for Ed’s site, I’ve just subscribed now!
I’m glad to hear that you have had success through many of these avenues, Bettie. That encourages me. I’ve been trying to pray through the hours the past several days but going through all the scriptures and responses three times a day seems a little overwhelming to me right now. 🙁 I do keep an ongoing conversation with God throughout my day, so hopefully I can find a healthy balance of adding in the hours in a way that feels beneficial but not like another to-do list. I appreciate hearing what has been helpful to you!
I loved both “Pray, Write, Grow” and Keating’s “Open Mind, Open Heart”. I’ve read them both at least twice and keep going back to them.
My prayers do tend to have a set structure – essentially “Thank you, Sorry, Please” – which helps me cover what I should, but it can mean I do it on auto-pilot. That always feels drab, when sometimes just a “Dear Lord” can be wonderful.
There must be a Divine Hours app, no? I would love having to pray – by surprise, wrench me out of what I’m doing and spend a moment inviting God’s presence.
I’m glad both those books were good for you too, David! Have you ever read Anne Lamott’s book, “Help, Thanks, Wow”? It sounds like you could write your own version of it. I don’t know if you would like her style; she’s not academic at all and can come across as irreverent, depending on how you read her. But I really like her; she’s very authentic.
A divine hours app….that would be a much better approach for me. I keep returning to the Vineyard Church website but they haven’t always updated it when I check.
I hadn’t heard of her but after a quick scan she does look interesting. I should more Wow. My version would be “Help, Thanks, Whoops”.
Found this: http://www.universalis.com/n-ios.htm
(Haven’t downloaded; will look properly on the morrow)
Looking at it now…. I might try the free month trial to see what I think. Thanks for sharing this, David!