I’m a sucker for the stunt memoir, the I’ll-try-anything-for-a-year memoir. I wrote one myself and I’m now in the process of doing another. I’m also a huge fan of international travel.
So it’s not surprising that I would take a shine to A Year of Living Prayerfully: How a Curious Traveler Met the Pope, Walked on Coals, Danced with Rabbis, and Revived His Prayer Life, Jared Brock’s slightly starry-eyed account of learning to pray by consulting some of the world’s biggest experts during a 37,000-mile world tour. It’s a fun book that also raises some important questions about the next generation of Christians and what they do and do not care about. -- JKR
RNS: I know a lot of people will compare your book to AJ Jacobs’s The Year of Living Biblically (one of my favorite religion books of all time). How is your book unique?
Jared Brock: I actually asked AJ for permission to 'draft' off his title, and he graciously said yes. Title and genre aside, our books are vastly different. AJ focuses on living out the Old Testament. My book is on prayer, and I explored a world of Judeo-Christian traditions. I had an audience with the Pope and had lunch at the Vatican. I walked across a bed of hot coals. I celebrated New Year's in North Korea. I hung out with monks on Mount Athos. I've chatted with a bunch of people who've read both my book and AJ's, and they're each incredibly unique.
RNS: How the heck did you write the text of an entire book in three and a half weeks? (Oh, and by the way, I now hate you.)
Brock: You write the whole book in your head over a year of travel, and then you sit down and type for 10 to14 hours per day, six days per week, until it's done. 🙂
RNS: A lot of Millennials and Gen Xers are burned out on organized religion and drifting away from church involvement. Why do you think that is? Is it a concern?
Brock: Many churches and people (myself included) are guilty of practicing religion, but it's supposed to be a living faith. My generation is very passionate about issues like human trafficking and clean water and income equality - things that Jesus would care about - but they don't see the established church caring very much.
Here's the interesting thing: churches that are organized, passionate, and relevant are exploding, while entire mainline denominations are being decimated. Ideally, dying churches would give their buildings to young leaders instead of converting them to condos. I'm hopeful for the future of the church though - each generation must find a way to live out the message of Jesus, and I've met so many people who are doing incredible things in service of the world.
RNS: I understand that you and your wife feel passionately enough about some of those issues that you decided to lead a pretty unconventional life together.
Brock: My wife and I are not normal! A couple years ago we just figured that the American dream was not going to work for us if we want to help the world. We live in an Airstream trailer. We don’t own cell phones.
We have tried to create a margin of time and money in order to do projects like this. We basically used the publisher’s advance to pay for all the travel. My wife and I also set up a non-profit to receive the royalties from now on and give them to charity. We want the book to do well so it can do a double good in the world.
RNS: What is your favorite of all the prayer practices you tried out for the book?
Brock: Silence. My prayer life is a lot more quiet now. If you talk the whole time, that's a speech or a monologue. Prayer is a dialogue, a conversation. Brother Roger at Taize said "maintain inner silence in all things so as to dwell in Christ." So I try to practice stillness and silence, to listen to what God might want to say. Prayer is a constant communion with Christ.