Prayer

  The Heart Transformed: Prayer of Desire, which appeared at the same time as our essay on abortion, is a different sort of book from anything else I have written. It is both more personal in nature and addressed to a more general audience than my more academic writings. It grew out of my own prayer life over a period of years. Originally I began putting together a packet of prayer notes to share with people I knew who were interested in learning to pray. Being both a teacher and a philosopher by vocation put me in a special position to write this sort of material. Although the style is informal and accessible, quite a bit of philosophical reflection is going on just under the surface. I received a lot of positive feedback and some helpful suggestions from the many people from a variety of religious backgrounds who I sent the notes to, and gradually the book took shape out of the material I had been circulating.

   Rather than being historical or scholarly in nature, the book is addressed to people living in the modern world who want to learn to encounter God in private prayer, trying to anticipate and respond to the sorts of problems and questions that will arise for them. It is the whole person who prays: mind, emotion, body, spirit. You don’t have to check your mind at the door. American religion tends to be overly emotional and sentimental in tone. There is good reason, however, to believe that people can and do experience God sometimes, and that it is possible to discern over time what is real and what may be only our imaginations. A good prayer life is can help us find an anchor in life’s storms, and discover what we are here to do.

   In my philosophical writing about religious experience, I have been influenced by William Alston’s book Perceiving God, which I reviewed ("Placing the Burden of Proof", New Oxford Review, December 1993). A section of my manuscript for The Heart Transformed seemed too argumentative in style for the final book, so I pulled it out and got it published in Faith and Philosophy ("Countering the ‘Nothing But’ Argument"). In the volume on the epistemology of religious experience edited by William Alston. My conversion story appears in Dan O’Neil’s book The New Catholics (Crossroad Publishing, 1987)

  I was invited by the editor at Catholic Truth Society to write a shorter book on prayer for their Deeper Christianity series. The result was A New Companion to Prayer: Meeting God Where You Are, which was published in 2011.

  In retirement I am continuing to work on some of the same issues raised in my books in my current project entitled The Hungry Heart: Reflections on Desire. This will be aimed at an even wider audience than my books on prayer, and have some philosophical meat to it as well. It will be Augustinian in structure. In other words, our restless hearts ultimately find rest only in God. But unlike most of what is written on this theme I work through and explore various ways we try to deal with the hunger we feel before making a transition to anything religious. What happens when we listen only to desire (e.g. emotional shopping)? How have people brought in reason to help them (e.g. Stoics and Freud)? And finally I argue that the insatiable desire of our hearts is in some sense “the mark of the maker” – and points us to God.