Prayerfulness — and further thoughts on “Tame” and “Wild” Spirituality

Yesterday I finished Prayerfulness. My copy of the book came from; I get books from them as part of their reviewer program, so I owed them a review on it. This is what I wrote:

Robert J. Wicks writes in the tradition of Joseph Schmidt’s classic, Praying Our Experiences: An Invitation to Open Our Lives to God — in other words, Prayerfulness is a thoughtful, grounded, and warm invitation to expand our concept of what prayer is and the role it plays in the ordinary moments of our lives. The subtitle of the book is descriptive of its message: awaken to life’s fullness! Prayerfulness is all about being alert, awake, mindful; paying attention to the stirrings of our inner lives in dialogue with the ever-changing circumstances of the world in which we live. The book really is a series of meditative reflections on topics such as honoring life’s fragility, facing sadness, and befriending our challenging emotions such as anger. Like many thoughtful and well-grounded spiritual books, at times this book is rather dry, although the author works to keep things interesting through storytelling. Perhaps the single most useful part of the book is the “Spiritual Mindfulness Questionnaire” — a series of thirty thought-provoking questions designed not so much as a diagnostic tool but rather as a portal through which we can move to find greater self-awareness in terms of both the gifts and the challenges of our spiritual lives. Wick’s reflections on the uses of each of these questions is particularly helpful. I recommend this book to anyone who is committed to responding to the Apostle Paul’s challenge to “Pray without ceasing” (I Thessalonians 5:17), in a healthy, mature, sustainable and truly mindful way.

Earlier this month I wrote a post in which I compared this book to John Crowder’s Miracles Workers, Reformers & The New Mystics, arguing that while Prayerfulness is the more grounded and truly wise of the two books, The New Mystics (with its colorful descriptions of miracle workers, both past and present) is wilder, edgier, and even just plain more fun.

Perhaps its telling that, even though I found Prayerfulness to be “at times… rather dry” and “less fun” than The New Mystics, this is the book I’ve finished first. Perhaps “tame” versus “wildness” is not all that compelling of a competition after all. I know that the main reason this question bugs me is because of the implication it has for my own writing. I want my work to be as mature and well-grounded as that of Robert J. Wicks, but simultaneously as exciting, in-your-face, and fun to read as the writing of John Crowder. Sigh. I suppose it’s dangerous to try to make music that is simultaneously soothing and danceable (although maybe some of the better chillout music comes close). If I’m not careful, I run the risk of my work failing both in terms of its readability and its wisdom. So, at the end of the day all I can do is try to be as true to myself, and my vision, and my faith, and my sense of where God is leading my writing, as best I can. And hopefully it will be wise and it will be wild. Not just wildness tempered by wisdom and/or wisdom tempered by wildness. But rather, something entirely new — even while it is fully grounded in tradition.

Okay, if I try to squeeze one more paradox into my creative aspirations I think my head will explode. Go buy Prayerfulness and give it to someone you love this holiday season (even if that someone is yourself). It really is a lovely book.

Happy St. Hildegard's Day!
Mysticism and the Divine Feminine: An Interview with Mirabai Starr
Pentecost and Ecstasy
In Memoriam: Kenneth Leech
About Carl McColman

Author of Befriending Silence, The Big Book of Christian Mysticism, Answering the Contemplative Call, and other books. Retreat leader. Speaker. Professed Lay Cistercian.

  • Jean Wise

    I too have read Prayerfulness but not the other one you mentioned. Would be fun to compare them. Love your sentences : ” I want my work to be as mature and well-grounded as that of Robert J. Wicks, but simultaneously as exciting, in-your-face, and fun to read as the writing of John Crowder. Sigh. I suppose it’s dangerous to try to make music that is simultaneously soothing and danceable (although maybe some of the better chillout music comes close).” yes be true to yourself yet strive to reach/develop new nuances to our writing. I agree.

  • Jeff

    Still musing on your “not a tame lion post”. Years ago I had two opposite conversations. In the first the person ended with the passionate comment – “If God is like that I want nothing to do with him” The other person in response to the same concepts said “Hmm, I may have to consider the possibility that God isn’t the way I would like him to be.” After all God said to Moses “I am who I am”, not “I am whoever you think I am or would like me to be.” For every person, I think the Lord has aspects that he or she have to mold and bend and surrender to – we have to change, not him. Ouch! We need to conform to his image not the other way around. Besides character change, I think this also applies to the uncomfortable or politically incorrect truths and teachings of Christianity and the Bible, otherwise we’re “buffet believers” picking and choosing what fits us, remaking God in our image. This is true for all of us, no matter what background or set of prior beliefs and preferences we bring to the table.

  • Jeff

    A writing wild and wise, simple and deep, may we live here.
    Bimal was a leper in Calcutta, a man whom passersby might have wondered what he had done in past lives to account for such an evil karma. His story may be the kind of thing radical Hindus have in mind when they accuse Christians of “bribing” the poor to convert. Taken under wing by an Assembly of God missionary and escorted to a leper colony, Bimal tried to work up his courage to throw himself under the wheels of the train. The missionary, however, kept watch all night through half-closed eyes. At the colony, Bimal became desperate, and began to pray to the God of lepers the missionary had told him about:
    “Help me, Jesus. Help me, Jesus. You are the Son of God. You are the Son of God. Help me!”
    “Bimal was suddenly overwhelmed. . . To this day he weeps when he describes the sensation. . . ‘Leprosy suddenly meant nothing to me. In that moment, I felt stronger than leprosy. When days came that I weakened and became discouraged, I would pray again and that strength always came back to me.’ ”
    from – Mark Buntain, The Compassionate Touch

    “Whosoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in him and he in God” I John 4:15
    “This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world ? Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.” I John 5:4-5

  • Jo

    I never thought about being wise and edgy. I think that if you truly are on the journey and not sitting at a rest stop, you will be both. I think there is difference between my wisdom and His. I no longer think of God in me but me traveling into the heart of Him. The draw is powerful and profound. He is Who He is. The only difference between me and Thee is that I started on this earth from perhaps a different culture, family, and/or faith. My comments may be totally different from yours, but they are the view from my window. My only prayer is that it will help you appreciate yours.

  • Jeff

    Is Integral Thought a Procrustean bed? Procrustes was a king in Greek mythology who had a bed that fit every one. If you were too short or too tall for it you were stretched or snipped to fit. I encountered a version of it during my conversion to Christianity in the Perennial Philosophy by Huxley and another book called if I remember correctly A Yogi Looks at Christianity. I was told in them that the New Testament taught something different than the surface literal meaning once you properly redefined and re-interpreted everything from the deeper and more correct and outside perspective. Have you snipped and stretched and changed what the New Testament says about Jesus of Nazareth as the Son of God who gives you the Holy Spirit and made a different Jesus? People adroitly relabel, identify levels, daub with colors, and say that as you go up the rainbow you realize Jesus isn’t the GodMan Savior after all. Why, once you’re the color teal – “Jesus becomes an enlightened master who realized his own Christ nature”. ( What a relief, we now have a tamed Buddha figure instead of that pesky Lord of Lord and King of Kings Lion of the Tribe of Judah Jesus – who is so primitive and tribal and premodern!

    If the interpretative grid is Integral Thought why go through the heavy lifting of re-interpretation and re-defining you have to do with Christianity to make it all fit? Just take the Integral way straight up. Why be a Christian at all, if Jesus isn’t truly the unique incarnate GodMan Savior, unless it’s a matter of aesthetics, cultural conditioning and personal taste so it fits your vibe better to get you to the contemplative state? I couldn’t go the redefinition route as I felt it was intellectually dishonest, waving verbal wands to make the New Testament say something else.

  • Bob


    You bring up some valid points. I like your passion of the centrality of Christ. We shouldn’t lose the focus of Jesus is Lord and Son of the Living God. I think we are all cafeteria Christians (Protestants and Roman Catholics) at some level. God only wants our honesty and desire to follow him. I think Christianity is the fullness or the most complete of all religions and spiritualities. I think mysticism leans towards the pluralistic. Carl has a unique ministry with his blog and books. I think he is about making the mystical writings more assessable to a “lay” audience. Folks that have had an oppressed religious upbringing my find relief in Carl’s struggle to integrate his new Catholicism. Anyway he can speak for himself. Just my opinion.