Wednesday, January 23, 2013

How to Pray the Dominican Way

This posts links to RAnn's Sunday Snippets

When I’m browsing at St. Anthony’s Catholic  bookstore here in Greenville, S.C., I tend to glide past the Prayer section on the way to Apologetics, Church History, that sort of stuff.  Like, I already know how to pray, y’know? And I’m not a very reflective person-  so I rarely read books about praying. But then this book fell into my hands: How to Pray the Dominican Way by Angelo Stagnaro.  The Dominican Way? Sure, I guess. But it was the subtitle that caught my eye: Ten Postures, Prayers, and Practices that Lead Us to God.

You know this saying which is ascribed to St. Augustine: “He who sings, prays twice.” I understand this to mean that a human being is comprised of a unity of body and soul. And that to pray is generally understood as a spiritual act, leaving the body to twiddle its thumbs ‘til the soul is done.  But if the body sings the soul’s prayer, then the entire human being prays.  In my mundane prayer experience I’ve found that to completely true. I give singing and praying an A+, compared to a B for just praying on the inside.  So the bit about “Ten Postures” drew me in.

The book begins with a pithy biography of St. Dominic de Guzman, and treats the saint’s evangelistic engagement with the Albigensian heresy in useful detail. Critical to the rest of the book’s content, one learns (or is reminded) that the Albigensians made much fuss over the soul, while treating the body and the physical world “with disdain.” This prelude shows us right away the attention that Dominic would pay to the divine fusion of body and soul; and his motivation for developing specific modes of prayer that would engage them both. As I tell the kids in Catechism class: the Body trains the Soul; the Soul trains the Body. St. Dominic would like that.

Following the bio are a few pages in which the author tells us how to use the book. After that, ten chapters focus on ten ways to involve the body in prayer. A typical chapter is titled “Lying Prostrate on the Ground.”  I plugged into this one right away because I’ve been praying prostrate for years in my bedroom, and it works. So I knew Mr. Stagnaro wasn’t just cranking out pious pap. When an author comments on a subject I already know something about, and I find his comments to be reasonable based on my own experience, I’m more inclined to accept his thinking on what I am not familiar with. And speaking of the unfamiliar, in this chapter on lying prostrate he presents a winsome way of praying the Jesus Prayer within a natural rhythm of measured breathing. Wow…never thought of that. I’ll have to give it a try.

The other chapters are similar. They lead with a few words about Dominic and the posture in question; then a few meditations which correlate with that posture; and finally a good-sized chunk of Scripture to pray and reflect on, thematically aligned with the body’s posture.

So: will How to Pray the Dominican Way have any influence on me? Happily, it will. I’m not an adventuresome pray-er, but this explicitly physical approach was new and interesting  to me, and worth a try. If you are not like me, and take a pro-active approach to prayer, you’ll love this book. If you are like me, and won’t crack a book like this, crack this book. I expect you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

This review was originally posted at Standing on My Head


Michael Seagriff said...

I have just ordered a copy of this this book and appreciate your recommending it.

I recently discovered another Dominican book, you and your readers will no doubt also enjoy - "The Presence of God" by Father Anselm Moynihan, O.P. available on It's a steal and great resource.

I have no affilaition with the book or author. I just loved it!

Michael Seagriff

Barb Schoeneberger said...

I liked your insight into St. Augustine's quote. Many body postures are no longer available to me, but I imagine myself in those postures as I am praying. A proper posture for prayer such as prostration is really important to my prayer life. It's nice to know there is a bit of the Dominican in me! Dominicans rock!

Kathleen Basi said...

That sounds interesting...I'm very big into the idea of body & soul working together, so this is worth checking out.