Gary Neal Hansen used to think he had a peculiar prayer life, because his prayers were unlike those of people around him. In studying the prayer habits of great figures from church history, he soon realized he was not so unusual. In Kneeling with Giants: Learning to Pray with History's Best Teachers (InterVarsity Press), Hansen, professor of church history at the University of Dubuque Theological Seminary, introduces readers to an amazing variety of long-neglected prayers and practices. He resurrects the prayer methods of spiritual heroes like St. Benedict, Martin Luther, John Calvin, Ignatius of Loyola, Teresa of Avila, and Andrew Murray, and commends specific utterances like the Jesus Prayer and the Divine Office. Elesha Coffman, former managing editor of Christian History, spoke with Hansen about the value of ecumenical openness to different varieties of prayer.
Is prayer really something that can be taught?
Absolutely—though many books on prayer overlook the question, "How do I do it?" Learning new ways of praying takes some courage, just like when you take up a new instrument or sport. What you need is someone to take you through the basic steps, and a vision of what it might be like if you were to really master those steps.
People often think there is only one way to pray, or one theologically and spiritually right way. Sadly, people who only know one way sometimes find it empty, and then they conclude that they just aren't the "praying type." Actually, what faithful Christians do when they pray varies widely across the centuries and across the boundaries of traditions. I'm convinced that God wants all kinds of people to grow in prayer.1