When You Pray: A Practical Guide to an Orthodox Life of Prayer

This is the first of two reviews I’ll be sharing on books about prayer. I’ve been particularly interested in this subject for over a year now—prayer has been a core part of my life and yet still poses challenges for me. My first “study” of it was through a Catholic lens and led me to lectio divina, so I was looking forward to comparing it with an Orthodox perspective in When You Pray. (I’ll just add that the author, L. Joseph Letendre, is not a priest, but he has a Masters in Divinity and writes on various Orthodox topics.)

At a mere 72 pages, this book is very short, yet very helpful. It’s written in a refreshingly approachable voice even older kids could read. In fact, I wish it had been available when I was a tween, since the advice is pretty sound and would have helped me out when I was just starting to pray more than my routine bedtime prayers.

The chapters go over the concept of prayer, when and how to pray, and what to pray. There is some overlap with Bishop Barron’s 5 Ways to Pray Better* in the advocacy of a personal “holy hour” and use of lectio divina (though from my understanding, Letendre’s lectio divina is not completely identical in format to Barron’s). Of course, there are also areas of difference, such as the rosary which is naturally not prescribed in When You Pray.

Letendre puts special emphasis on these prayers:

  • The Jesus Prayer (“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”)
  • The Lord’s Prayer (ideally morning, midday, and night)
  • The Psalms (praying through them on a regular basis)
  • Praying for people by name

I was especially grateful for the reminder about Psalms, since it was a psychological and spiritual survival skill mentioned in Fear No Evil.

I’m in no position to describe how Orthodox this book is, but coming from a Protestant background, I found it incredibly helpful and one I’ll be reading again. A couple of highlights:

If we pray for others, we are volunteering to help.

This is so true.

Sometimes prayer is like going to the dentist. When serious work is required, the dentist injects Novocain into our gums so we feel nothing during the procedure. When we feel nothing during prayer, it could be that the deep healing has begun.

I learned this through experience. It is ok to pray and not feel anything; some of my most important prayers were said at times I just felt numb inside. God is there regardless of how we feel. ÔŁĄ


*Note: This is not a blanket endorsement of Bishop Barron. Feel free to email/message me if you’d like to hear my thoughts on his work.