c. 1996 Religion News Service
(UNDATED) This morning upon waking, David Yount said his prayers.
“Common people do not pray, they only beg,” George Bernard Shaw once sneered, but Yount is quick to differ. He believes prayer is natural for all of us, on the lips of athletes seeking Olympic greatness and children tucked into bed.
At 62, Yount finds his morning prayer increasingly simple: praise of God, gratitude for another day. Gone are the days in a Paris seminary when he wrestled with big theological questions and sought proof of the existence of God.
“I broke an engagement to be married, rejected fellowships to graduate school, entered a monastery and then a seminary, where I remained for eight years, most of them still in the agony of doubt,” Yount writes in his new book, “Breaking Through God’s Silence: A Guide to Effective Prayer” (Simon & Schuster).
“I read theological tomes as tedious as telephone directories,” he recalls of his young manhood. “To this day, my proof of God’s existence is that I cannot be indifferent to him.”
Yount _ whose syndicated column “Amazing Grace” appears in hundreds of newspapers _ still lives with doubt, but he wears it lightly now.
“I live out in the woods now and I pray when I take my Scottish terrier out for romps,” Yount said in a telephone interview. “I get frustrated with her. She is not very obedient and, for a terrier, not very smart. I like to think of myself as made in the image and likeness of God. But actually, God must think I’m at least as dumb and disobedient as my Scottish terrier is.”
Yount, a dog lover, chuckles. One of his favorite prayers is, “Lord, help me to be the person my dog thinks me to be.”
Yount, who has no use for solemn airs, ends the book with that prayer.
“I’m not writing for the choir,” Yount said. “I’m not writing for religiously oriented people at all. There has to be a life of the spirit for all those not willing to make the leap of faith.”
While almost everyone has an impulse to prayer, particularly in a crisis, not everyone prays well. It takes practice, Yount said.
“Prayer is focused attention on God,” Yount said. “It is a way to step out of time and enter eternity. It’s like falling in love. Time stops briefly. And prayer is what we will be doing all of eternity. It need not be formal, but it should not be casual.”
Yount issues three warnings:
_ Prayer is not psychoanalysis: “To break God’s silence, we need to restrain our outpourings and to start listening.”
_ Do not flatter yourself by assuming your own exceptional stature. God’s words are universal. “If you believe God is telling you something very different from what he tells everyone,” Yount advises, “watch out.”
_ Beware of praying for goodness. Ask for forgiveness first. Yount refers readers to Jesus’ story of the Pharisee and the tax collector at the temple. The Pharisee stood and prayed, “God, I thank thee that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even this tax collector. I fast twice a week, I give tithes of all that I get.” The tax collector, for his part, meekly prayed for mercy.
Jesus was clear about which man pleased God.
“Learning to pray effectively is not like perfecting your golf swing or your approach to the opposite sex,” Yount notes. “Technique alone will not get you far. You are not investing in God in the manner of a speculator on the stock market. Rather, you are seeking to open yourself to him, which calls for more passivity than for activity. As the psalmist counseled, `Be still, and know that I am God.’ ”
Yount is quick to acknowledge such stillness is hard to achieve. He supplements it with some practical advice.
Strive for the same time and the same place in daily prayer. Allot at least 20 to 30 uninterrupted minutes. Stick to the classics, especially in the beginning.
“Just as no audience would be offended if you played Chopin rather than music of your own composition, God will not mind if you wrap your sentiments in others’ words,” Yount writes.
“Breaking the Silence” includes more than 100 prayers Yount describes as durable classics. The Lord’s Prayer merits a long section to itself. The others fall into four categories: praise, apology, thanksgiving and request.
No one can be faulted for praying to find lost keys, but each petitioner should keep in mind that prayer is meant to change our minds, not God’s.
“The answers to prayer are often intangible: the gift of patience in one’s trials, the lessening of suffering, greater faith or love or confidence or forgiveness _ or the courage to break a habit and start over,” Yount notes.
Yount said he petitioned God frequently concerning his three daughters, all of whom have learning disabilities.
“Our first daughter is deaf and was having grand mal seizures before she was one,” Yount said. “I prayed that I’d go to the right doctors. I prayed that she didn’t have to be institutionalized. And through their own doggedness, all three eventually grew up, went to college and became honor students. I think the answers God gives us are often better and different from what we expect.”
MJP END LONG