One book I have been meaning to get to is Arriving at Amen: Seven Catholic Prayers That Even I Can Offer by Leah Libresco since I was sure it would be interesting. So finally got around to buying it and totally enjoyed the whole book. Just stunningly good.
For those unaware of Leah Libresco, she was previously an atheist blogger at Patheos. Her blog “Unequally Yoked” originally had the tagline “a geeky atheist picks fights with her Catholic boyfriend.” In June of 2012 she posted about her decision to become Catholic.
The title of her book, which came from her publisher, in part describes this book. When you come to the Catholic faith from an atheist background and never having believed in the existence of God, there is a big “what next”. This was certainly my experience where there was some intellectual understanding of the faith and a submission of intellect and will, but actually praying was totally alien to my experience.
This has to be one of the most unique books regarding prayer I have read. She takes to prayer methodologically as she works to integrate prayer in her life. What I really enjoyed is how she describes these struggles and the methods she used to start to overcome problems. This is not really a “how to” book on prayer with suggestions that will work for everybody. More of an approach to praying and being attentive to your own difficulties and seeking solutions that will work for you personally. Just like “Life hacking” has become a term used, I think “Prayer hacking” kind of fits in describing this approach. There is a wealth of devotional practices within the Church along with guidance in prayer and contemplation. Yet each individual must also discover what suits them best.
The most wonderful aspect of this book is the analogies as they are so rich and explanatory. She takes examples from across the spectrum of culture, science, fiction, math, etc. One thing I always appreciated about Catholic apologist Jimmy Akin is his geeky analogies from multiple fields of discipline. Leah Libresco has that same ability to help you understand something more deeply using these analogies. While some of her analogies are quite obscure, she explains them well. So you get the double-advantage of learning something knew while also coming to understand something more. Her chapter on confession was phenomenal with her relating of the “folk ballad of “Tam Lin” in regards to holding on to sin and how it shifts as you examine your conscience. This example is something I doubt I will ever forget. It explained my own experience succinctly and helped me to understand it better with a helpful visualization. This book is just chock-full of insights.
I also really enjoyed her clarity of thought and the natural way she teaches. She is obviously brilliant, but you never feel talked-down-to. More like you are joining her on a journey in discovering and integrating prayer.
I immensely enjoyed every moment I was reading this book and the fresh way it opens up avenues to pursue in my own prayer life.
I really hope we will be seeing more books from Leah Libresco in the future. I would certainly purchase anything she wrote on any topic and so look forward to her next book. There is a well-known (but totally false) story about how Queen Victoria, charmed by Alice in Wonderland, wanted to receive the author’s next work and received an inscribed copy of An Elementary Treatise on Determinants. Well if her next book was on math, I would read that.
Leah Libresco blogs at “Unequally Yoked” for Patheo’s Catholic Channel.