Hansen, Gary Neal. Kneeling with Giants: Learning to Pray with History’s Best Teachers. InterVarsity Press. 2012. ($14.95AU)
Kneeling with Giants introduces the reader to ten (10) historical approaches and practices of prayer. Each approach is considered through the writings of a prominent exponent and teacher. Hansen draws widely, freely, and unapologetically from across Christian traditions and historical periods.
The result is stunning.
The book takes readers on a pilgrimage that considers The Divine Office, The Lord’s Prayer, The Jesus Prayer, Studious Meditation on the Psalms, The Prayer of the Senses, Recollection of the Presence of God, Meditation through Writing, Contemplation in the Dark, The Healing Light, and the Ministry of Intercession. Teachers and writers include: St Benedict, Martin Luther, John Calvin, Ignatius of Loyola, St Teresa of Avila, the Puritan writers, the unknown author of ‘The Cloud of Unknowing’, Agnes Sanford, and Andrew Murray.
From this list it is clear that this is not simply a book on intercession. This is a book that takes on the many dimensions prayer.
Hansen’s book began life as a seminary course. Indeed, the book is well structured and moves logically and progressively from beginning to end. At a number of points Hansen encourages readers to take this book slowly. The class Hansen teaches considers each practice over a two week period where he requires students to practice and discuss each method before making their assessment. He expects different personalities to be drawn to different methods and that many individuals will pray in different ways across a lifetime. He encourages a spirit of exploration and experiment.
Clearly Hansen’s primary concern is not theoretical or even theological (a gathering of these chosen ‘Giants’ would produce an intriguing discussion indeed!). Kneeling with Giants is not about finding the one ‘right’ way to pray. Hansen openly expects most readers to struggle with at least some of the methods – whether this stems from theological concerns or personality traits.
The book would lend itself well to adult group study and discussion. Indeed, Hansen encourages readers to consider how his study might fit into the life of the church. Appendix 1 offers practical guidance in using the text in this way.
Another addition to Kneeling with Giants is the e-study guide which offers primary reading material from the writers considered under each practice – a nice bonus indeed!
Kneeling with Giants is one of those books that those who take prayer seriously are likely to re-visit regularly. It is practical and – when the opportunity presents itself – a study I would like to offer and lead. The book will be worth the time it takes to consider, and practice, carefully.