The best books about Christian prayer for beginners

Jerry Windley-Daoust Author Of Imagine You Walked with Jesus: A Guide to Ignatian Contemplative Prayer
By Jerry Windley-Daoust

Who am I?

Sometimes I wonder how I ended up writing so many books about spirituality and religion. I started out in journalism, after all, driven by an endless curiosity about people and the planet. I wanted to tell all the untold stories! Funny thing, chasing those stories deeper and deeper eventually led me to write about spirituality, and ultimately, prayer. I picked up an MA in pastoral ministry, spent a few years editing high school religion textbooks for Saint Mary’s Press, and then started writing my own books. Most of what I write is aimed at helping beginners learn to pray, which is why I made this list.

I wrote...

Imagine You Walked with Jesus: A Guide to Ignatian Contemplative Prayer

By Jerry Windley-Daoust,

Book cover of Imagine You Walked with Jesus: A Guide to Ignatian Contemplative Prayer

What is my book about?

What would it be like to walk with Jesus along the roads and seashores of ancient Palestine…to eat with him, to hear his words, to witness his miracles? For centuries, Christians have “walked with Jesus” through the practice of imaginative prayer. Imagine You Walked with Jesus is your guide to this ancient method of prayer, taking you on a journey through forty Gospel-based encounters with Jesus, from his birth to his resurrection. With the help of the Holy Spirit, you'll immerse yourself in each scene, interacting with Jesus just as his contemporaries did two thousand years ago. And like those men and women of ancient Palestine, you might find these intimate encounters with Jesus leave you forever changed, in ways both healing and hopeful.

The books I picked & why

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Clinging: The Experience of Prayer

By Emilie Griffin,

Book cover of Clinging: The Experience of Prayer

Why this book?

This little book is my first love, the one that I revisit every few years. Griffin calls it an experiment because rather than describing a particular method of prayer, she sets out to paint a picture of what prayer is like, using the palette of her own experience, wise words from Scripture, and the long tradition of Christian mysticism. The resulting work is less like a map or a manual than the story of a single traveler exploring the far reaches of the known world; and in telling that story, she blazes a path for the rest of us. The book is only available in print, which is unfortunate for those of us who prefer ebooks; on my bookshelf, it sits right next to all the spiritual classics.

Meditation and Contemplation: An Ignatian Guide to Praying with Scripture (Crossroad Book)

By Timothy M. OMV Gallagher,

Book cover of Meditation and Contemplation: An Ignatian Guide to Praying with Scripture (Crossroad Book)

Why this book?

This is one of the first books I read about Ignatian meditation and contemplation, and my copy is well worn; in fact, I used it as a primary source for my own book on imaginative prayer. (Ignatian meditation is a way of prayerfully reflecting on the meaning of Scripture, while Ignatian contemplation is a way of entering the world of a Scripture passage through the imagination.) Gallagher closely follows the methods and terminology used by St. Ignatius in his Spiritual Exercises, but he “translates” that material for modern readers in a clear, simple way. I found it especially helpful that Gallagher includes lots of first-hand accounts from the experiences of ordinary people; these offer practical models for what each step looks like, and make the whole book more interesting, too.

Thirsting for Prayer

By Jacques Phillippe,

Book cover of Thirsting for Prayer

Why this book?

This is the book that I would recommend for older teens and adults who are just getting going with their own Christian prayer practice. Thirsting for Prayer is brief (just over 100 pages in the print edition), but only because Fr. Philippe is the sort of writer who has mastered his subject so thoroughly, it’s easy for him to explain its essence to the beginner. There’s nothing faddish or gimmicky here, just a straightforward presentation of why prayer matters, the conditions that help it to be fruitful, and practical advice. Reading it feels like sitting down with a wise but kindly spiritual director—which isn’t surprising, given Fr. Philippe’s extensive experience in that role.

The Story of a Soul: The Autobiography of St. Therese of Lisieux

By Thérèse Of Lisieux, Michael Day (translator),

Book cover of The Story of a Soul: The Autobiography of St. Therese of Lisieux

Why this book?

Let’s take things in a different direction with Story of a Soul, the spiritual autobiography of a French nun who died in cloistered obscurity in 1897 at the age of 24. Like a lot of people, I was initially skeptical about what wisdom this sheltered, middle-class young woman would have to offer; at first blush, her piety seemed conventional and old-fashioned. But the more I read, the more she won me over: underneath the sometimes-flowery language I discovered a fierce passion (all those exclamation marks!), a refreshing forthrightness, and cunning wisdom that actually subverts conventional piety with its “littleness.” Story of a Soul isn’t an instruction manual; rather, it’s the very personal, joyful account of one young woman’s “little way” to Jesus—a way so simple, anyone can follow it.

I Heard God Laugh: A Practical Guide to Life's Essential Daily Habit

By Matthew Kelly,

Book cover of I Heard God Laugh: A Practical Guide to Life's Essential Daily Habit

Why this book?

If all the other books I’ve recommended are like going on a good spiritual retreat, I Heard God Laugh is like hanging out at a backyard barbecue with your favorite neighbor. That’s not to say that Matthew Kelly isn’t a spiritual master (he is), but he writes in a colloquial, friendly style, preferring personal anecdotes and homey little parables over explicit callbacks to Scripture and other Christian mystics. That’s not to say his approach isn’t solidly rooted in the Christian tradition; it is, but here his aim is to encourage the reluctant pray-er by stripping away anything that might get in the way and offering lots of encouragement. Kelly’s approach is most similar to my own; we both have a heart for helping people to begin their conversation with God. As he says, “Once the conversation has begun, it can lead anywhere.”

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