Bonhoeffer’s blessed sign

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

I’ve been dipping in an out of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Letters and Papers from Prison and was surprised to discover that he used the sign of the cross in his daily prayers. In a letter from November 21, 1943, he says this: “I’ve found that following [Martin] Luther’s instruction to ‘make the sign of the cross’ at our morning and evening prayers is in itself most useful. There is something objective about it. . . .” Growing up, I always understood the sign of the cross to be … [Read more...]

Following Jesus in the Psalms

Christ Preaching at Capernaum

Jesus tells us to pick up our cross and follow him, and he makes a striking provision for us in the Psalms to do so. The Psalter—in its own way as much as the Gospels—sums up Christ’s life and work while also making that life and work something with which we can identify in a powerful way. … [Read more...]

Worshipping with the Psalms

Praise the Lord from Heaven

There’s a passage in Augustine’s Confessions that describes a holiday he took to Cassiciacum after quitting his job in Milan. On his break he wrote letters, suffered a horrendous toothache, and read the Psalms. “How loudly I cried out to you, my God, as I read the psalms of David,” he writes, “songs full of faith, outburst of devotion with no room in them for the breath of pride!” … [Read more...]

Praying the Psalms

Praying in the Synagogue

I wonder how often we find our prayers dead and lifeless. I wonder how often we come up dry and dumb with no words, no thoughts, no way of formulating the feelings, frustrations, and various shades of grief that we bear. Burdened and distracted, we can hardly remember to pray, and when we do we have nothing to say. What if someone could guide you to God in those moments, could take you before the throne, lean over and whisper, “Just say it like this,” and then unfurl a stream of words that … [Read more...]

The Psalms in Christian life

Icon of the Psalmist, King David

The American patriot leader Joseph Warren was killed at the Battle of Bunker Hill in June 1775. Coming upon his bloodied and fallen body, a British soldier plucked a small psalter from his pocket. Warren had carried the little book into battle, a volume whose pages declare that God “maketh wars to cease unto the ends of the world: he breaketh the bow and cutteth the spear, and burneth the chariots with fire.” It is fitting that a soldier should carry such comforting lines -- those … [Read more...]

On using a prayer book

On Using a Prayer Book

For the past several years my prayer life has included the use of a prayer book. I started with the Anglican Book of Common Prayer and eventually came to use various Eastern Orthodox manuals. I have experienced three basic reactions to my practice: (1) support, (2) curiosity, and (3) disapproval. Many have already discovered how useful prayer books can be, and some are lifelong users who cannot imagine a full prayer life without one. Others have few reference points for use of prewritten … [Read more...]

How to avoid ineffectual prayers

St. James the Less

James, the brother of Jesus, was serious about his prayer. He used to go to the temple and kneel in prayer so often and for so long that his knees were reputed to be as calloused and tough as a camel’s. He was bishop of Jerusalem then and was martyred several years before the temple was ultimately destroyed, but as long as he had life he could be found, as one ancient writer put it, “bending the knee in adoration to God, and begging forgiveness for the people.” Given his intense … [Read more...]


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