By Barb Arland-Fye
Catholic author Jane Knuth just acquired another friend: me. Reading her new book, “The Prayer List,” gave me the feeling of having a conversation with a dear friend about life, which inspires my prayer habits.
Jane starts her engaging book with a story about inheriting Aunt Kay’s prayer list and the angst that surfaced in trying to carry on a family tradition. “First, I wrote down everyone in the family who was struggling with something. Looking it over, I felt bad about leaving people off, so I filled in the rest of the family, too, whether they needed it or not. I have a big family, and this was a long list,” Jane writes.
The list became unmanageable — should she cross off her dad’s cousin who died? I could relate to Jane’s dilemma. My prayer list is in my head, and sometimes I forget a name, leaving me with a sense of regret. I also participate in two online prayer chains and save those requests in an electronic folder. Deleting names from the folder seems heartless.
Jane dropped her prayer list for a while but came back to it when she needed big-time prayer for herself. “The Prayer List” is really a collection of stories, about integrating prayer into family life. Jane gathered true stories of prayer traditions from families of Christian, non-Christian or no defined faith affiliation. She creates a wonderful tapestry of the lived experience of real families, including her own, and how prayer enriches and strengthens relationships — with one another and with God.
Her approach to interviews with families adds to the book’s conversational appeal. “When looking for stories about family prayer, I purposely did not search the entire world. I went about it by asking my family and friends for their stories. I prayed about it and trusted God to give me the stories,” Jane writes.
One fascinating story involves two women: Rita, an American nurse, and Gulaine, a refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo. One is like a mother to the other. Rita tells Jane: “I make papers in the shape of eggs and write my prayers on them, then I put them in the Bible until they are ‘hatched.’” Gulaine says: “… don’t forget to be grateful for the answered prayers — keep them in your Bible as a reminder.”
Jane writes about having a unique opportunity to “find out how Muslims pray in their families to the God that we all love.” A family from Syria shared how their young daughter became interested in praying in a room of the house away from toys and television. When the family built a new house, they included a prayer room at their daughter’s insistence. The mother confides to Jane: “And sometimes, when we are stressed,” (alluding to the catastrophe taking place in Syria) “we all pray here together. It’s a way to comfort us.”
Each chapter in “The Prayer List,” offers a suggestion on prayer related to the story or stories told. “Perhaps you have a family member — like our Japanese daughter, Kana – who is not actually related, but it feels that way,” Jane writes. “Put them on your list, too. Today, make your family prayer a prayer for the world.”
My husband Steve and I prayed the rosary nightly with our sons when they were growing up, creating our own special intentions between each decade. Now that they are grown, Steve and I pray with our “Christian Prayer” book the Liturgy of the Hours, mornings and evenings. It’s a tradition we’ve grown to love.
“The Prayer List” (Loyola Press, www.loyolapress.com) is another prayer book I’ll keep close by for inspiration and to continue the “conversation” with my friend Jane.
(Editor Barb Arland-Fye can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)