Adding gifts from the Christian East like mystery, contemplation and wisdom to one’s prayer life can bring a new richness and balance to those used to the Western church’s focus on understanding, action and knowledge.
That’s the thinking of Father Thomas W. Krenik, pastor of St. Richard in Richfield, and what’s behind his new book, “Praying With Both Lungs: A Communion of East and West.”
The title is imagery right out of the teaching of Pope John Paul II, who encouraged the Christian West to integrate some of the spirituality of the Eastern churches into their lives, noted the former seminary faculty member.
Praying with icons, the prayer of recollection and praying with a Scripture verse ala St. Anthony of the Desert are among the less familiar approaches Father Krenik brings to reader’s attention. But those who pray the Rosary or spend time before the Blessed Sacrament will find the chapters on those familiar prayer forms will enhance their prayer life, too.
The easy-to-follow text takes one step-by-step through each prayer form, offering questions to ask one’s self and suggestions that push one to think and reflect.
And, in what may be the book’s best feature, Father Krenik’s pastor’s aptitude shines as he shares his own experiences trying each form.
In the following Q & A conducted via e-mail, Father Krenik responded to questions from The Catholic Spirit:
Q – I’ve read the book, and it’s very well done. I don’t know if I’ve seen anything like it. Have you?
A – There have been many books written about prayer. Some of them are a collection of prayers. Some of them help to explore what it means to pray. Others go deep with a particular prayer form. Still others present various ways of praying. “Praying With Both Lungs” is fairly unique in that it describes and outlines 15 ways of praying that come from both the Eastern and Western experience of Christianity. Pope John Paul II often spoke of the need to breathe with both lungs (East and West) in the Church. One day I thought – why not pray with both lungs? This book helps readers and pray-ers who want to keep growing in spiritual maturity “to the measure of the full stature of Christ” (Eph 4:13).
Q – What prompted you to do this project? Did you see a need in the parish?
A – Over the years I have done numerous workshops on prayer, discernment, and Scripture study in parishes and when I was on the seminary faculty. They were always well received. People have a deep hunger to grow in relationship with God and to discern God’s hand at work in their daily lives. The plea of the first disciples seems to be perennial: “Lord, teach us to pray” (Luke 11:1). About 500 of our parishioners already have a copy of this book that was printed in our parish office. I have been humbled by the number of people who have told me about how helpful it is for them to leisurely explore and experience each prayer form. They soon realize the one or ones that most connect with where they are in their spiritual journey.
Q – Have you ever been published in book-length before?
A – In 1999 I published a book through the National Catholic Educational Association titled “Formation For Priestly Celibacy: A Resource Book.” It includes a forward and article by Archbishop Harry Flynn. The book explores seven critical guiding elements in formation for priestly celibacy. It filled a niche at that time for a resource that takes an integrative approach to helping seminarians and seminary formators to consider the charism of celibacy within the context of diocesan priesthood. It is used in seminary programs throughout the world.
Q – Is this a self-publishing effort? Any expectations for sales volume? Wealth and fame?
A – This is a self-publishing effort. It is printed by BookMobile and distributed by Itasca Books – both of which are located in Minneapolis. I have no huge expectations for wealth or fame. I simply want to make available a resource that is the fruit of my own prayer, study, and teaching and that meets a clear desire for tools that guide people deeper into the mystery of faith, hope and love.
Q – A great feature is the personal experience you bring to so many of the prayer forms. Were you afraid at all of putting yourself out there, so to speak?
A – Throughout the book I offer reflections on my own personal experience of prayer. I did this purposefully to give a sense of what each prayer form can look like experientially. I didn’t want the book to be an academic text but one that speaks from the heart and points others to the heart of Christ. I see this book as a way to help people lean into Christ like the Beloved Disciple in John’s gospel.
Q – Anything else you’d like to add?
A – In addition to a description of each prayer form, the book contains reflection questions and Biblical references to help persons go deeper into the gift of each way of praying. The book can be used by individuals for their ongoing spiritual formation. It can also be used in small groups – like faith-sharing groups, RCIA cohorts, 12-step groups, and those who are part of a prayer practicum. Also, it can be used as a helpful text for seminarians, houses of formation, college and high school students, faith formation programs, and retreat centers.
This book, with its focus on both the East and West, attends to the deepening conversations and movement toward greater communion between Eastern and Western Churches in recent decades under the leadership of Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI. It also reflects a growing interest in Eastern Christian forms of prayer like praying with icons and the Jesus Prayer.
Copies may be ordered via http://www.itascabooks.com or 800-901-3480.