To Pray and to Love
We recently completed reading To Pray and to Love, a work of Roberta Bondi. This book was published in l991 (Fortress Press) and thus has been around for a while. It is a deeply reflective study of the practice of prayer as inspired by the teaching of the desert fathers and mothers. Raised in the Protestant Christian tradition, she was surprised to discover the wisdom and realism contained in their writings. The initial part of this work is aimed at introducing the roots of monastic living to an audience wary of the value of sequestered spirituality.
Bondi shares her own experience of expanding her understanding of prayer through contact with the desert tradition. She moves outside the formal and verbal practices of liturgical prayer and underlines the silent and wordless forms that prayer can assume. As any relationship changes, the relationship with God will evolve and change through the events and experiences of one’s life. She insightfully connects the ascetic formulations of desert teaching with the interpersonal and psychologically-filtered struggles of contemporary experience. She place discussions of humility, discernment and virtue in familiar contexts which can connect the latter with a personalized spirituality.
The chapters of the book move through a progressive development of thought, beginning with the scriptural mandate to “Pray Without Ceasing” to the final “The Desire for God.” Midway through the book is a helpful treatment of “Only Myself and God” which underlines the solitary and unique dimension of living with God in an unstable and fragmented world. She addresses questions that are often piously ignored. Her style is personal and clear, and the book offers thoughtful material for examining one’s own assumptions and practices in responding to the call to unceasing prayer.