whether they actively practice their faith or not, can recite the words to
the Hail Mary as instinctively as they tie their shoelaces. They may not
know the meaning or origin of the words they pray, but the prayer itself
is a part of their core, their identity, their soul. In her latest book
The Words We Pray
(Loyola Press, October 2004, paperback, 210 pages), Amy Welborn gives her
readers a gift – the gift of prayer, of knowing not only the words to our
favorite prayers, but the stories behind them and the occasions in life
when turning to them can provide solace and joy.
I have long admired Welborn’s ability to write. Picking up one of her
books, or treating yourself to an article she’s written is like a
combination of having lunch with a friend and a tutoring session with a
knowledgeable mentor. The Words We Pray continues this tradition for me,
as Amy Welborn captures so effectively the essence and origin of
traditional Catholic prayers. The book opens with Welborn’s heartfelt
description of her own “journey” towards an eventual embracing of prayers
such as the Salve Regina.
The true stars of
The Words We Pray
are the prayers themselves. Welborn has included eighteen of the most
popular and powerful Catholic prayers, and has richly described their
histories and traditions. When we as Catholics turn to God in
communication using these wonderful gems of our Faith, we take our place
in the Communion of Saints who have over countless years turned to these
prayers to seek intercession and aid. Welborn’s book concludes with an
interesting discussion of “where our prayers go” and the value of praying
vocally, using traditional prayers.
The Words We Pray
serves not only as a valuable reference, but also as an invitation to a
deeper and richer prayer life.
Q: I am pleased to have this opportunity to
interview Catholic author, Amy Welborn. Amy, congratulations on the
publication of your latest book,
The Words We Pray and thanks for taking
the time to participate in this Catholic book spotlight. First and
foremost, I know you're a Catholic mom. Would you please start off by
telling us a bit about your family?
A: I'm married to Michael Dubruiel, also a writer and editor. I have four
born children at this moment, ages 22, 19, 13 and 3. A fifth is expected
in just a few weeks.
Q: For those who have not yet had a chance to
The Words We Pray,
please give us a brief synopsis of the book.
The Words We Pray
is a look at the background behind many different traditional Catholic
prayers, from the Sign of the Cross to Amen. I unpack the really
interesting historical background behind each prayer, but more than that,
I try to help the contemporary reader see the continuing resonance of each
prayer, as well as of traditional vocal prayer in general. It's a book
that combines historical background, personal reflection and (I hope)
contemporary spiritual resonance.
Q: What motivated you to write
The Words We Pray
and what message do you hope readers take away from their experience of
reading this book?
A: I was motivated by my own experiences, first and foremost of monastic
prayer. The Liturgy of the Hours, hundreds of years old, is, along with
the sacramental life of the church, the spiritual backbone of Catholicism.
The Liturgy of the Hours has certainly taken many forms and has evolved
over the centuries, but through it all, the Psalms have remained central
to it, and a startling number of other Catholic prayers and prayer
practices have evolved out of it, as well. Millions of Catholics and other
Christians have found spiritual richness in the Liturgy of the Hours, and
I was moved to ponder....perhaps our contemporary spiritual trends, which
really give short shrift to traditional vocal prayer...are missing
I hope that readers take away, not just historical facts, but a renewed
appreciation for traditional vocal prayer. St. Paul tells us that "we do
not know how to pray as we ought,” and all of the Church's great spiritual
masters encourage the use of traditional vocal prayer. The heart of prayer
is, of course, the heart. St. Therese says that prayer is a "surge of the
heart; it is a simple look turned toward heaven." And this is true.
But the fact is that our hearts and its surges need guidance. St.
Augustine says many times that the purpose of prayer is to put ourselves
into God's presence so that we may be formed by Him. Unguided, our prayers
can often lapse into self-reference, self-pity and just ...thinking,
instead of really being willing to be formed by God. What the use of
traditional vocal prayer, as a beginning and a framework for our own
prayer does, is to, as I say in the introduction, take me "beyond my own
vision of what was wrong, to share in God's vision of what was right."
Q: Reading this book gave me a new appreciation
for some of the "classic" Catholic prayers. I loved hearing the stories
behind the prayers that have been such a big part of my life! How did you
go about doing research for this book? Do you have a favorite prayer?
A: Well, there's a lot of historical work out there, just ready to be
gleaned. Most useful to me, to tell the truth, was the work of an early
20th century British historian Herbert Thurston, whose works are mostly
out of print. Some of the research came out of historical journals -
especially the material on the "Peace Prayer of St. Francis." As far as I
know, the story I tell of this prayer (which was not written by St.
Francis, while certainly in the Franciscan spirit) has not been told in
any other English-language work for the general public, available only in
scholarly journals and in some French and German works.
I think my favorite prayer of those I worked on, if I had to choose, would
be the Anima Christi. The words just express what is in my own soul,
pretty much all the time.
Q: How can we, as parents, express the richness
of these traditional prayers to our children?
A: Well, I think that loading kids with historical background about the
prayers they're praying isn't the point. I would hope that parents might
take what they learn from my book, and as they pray with their children,
use these traditional prayers in a way that helps kids connect with them.
For example, when a child is feeling hopeless or defenseless, to pull out
St. Patrick's Breastplate, and perhaps tell the legends of its
composition. Or to get into the habit of praying the Psalms regularly,
planting in our children a sense of the richness of traditional vocal
prayer and their connectedness to the entire Body of Christ.
Q: I can't miss this opportunity to ask you about
Prove It! series for teens. My 13 year old loves the new
Prove It! Bible. Please tell our readers about your work on this project.
Are there plans for future Prove It! installments?
A: Thanks very much. There is tentative talk about a
Prove It! You! book
which would basically be morality, but I'm not sure. I have another book
to write and a baby to birth - then I'll decide.
Q: With our recent celebration of All Saints Day,
I have to tell you that I refer people very frequently to two of your
wonderful books for children, the
Loyola Kids Book of Saints (Loyola Kids) and the
Loyola Kids Book of Heroes: Stories of Catholic Heroes and Saints Throughout History. How did you choose the people you highlighted in these
books? How do these books differ from traditional lives of the saints
A: I think the main difference between my saints books and others is that
I don't go chronologically through the liturgical years. I wanted to give
a stronger framework than that, one that could be more easily used by
parents and teachers, by grouping them
thematically. For the first book, once I came up with the concept,
("Saints are People who..."), I simply filled in the blanks, and tried to
pick saints who very vividly lived those qualities in a way that was
understandable to children. The second (Heroes) was a bit more difficult,
even after I came up with the framework, which is the virtues - it was
hard because of course, so many of the saints embody all of the virtues so
well, it was hard to separate them out. But I think it turned out well.
I also wanted to pick saints who represented a wide range of experience
and interests, as well as global diversity.
Q: I'm a fan of the writing of your husband,
Michael Dubruiel and your co-authored projects. What is it like writing
together? Do you have any future projects in the works?
A: We've been writing together for a long time. We enjoy it, although
right now we don't have any joint projects planned - we're too busy
frantically finishing up our new individual projects, due out next Spring.
Q: Amy Welborn, thank you so much for your time
and the wonderful gifts you give us through your writing. Are there any
closing thoughts you'd like to share with our readers?
A: One of the common themes running through all my work is a hope that
contemporary Christians be willing to develop a strong sense that the
Communion of Saints extends across time and space. As a person living in a
corner of Indiana, in the beginning of the 21st century, I don't have all
the answers to my own questions, or even the resources to answer them. But
I do have 2,000 years of Christian tradition (not to mention the 4,000
years of Jewish tradition) - millions and millions of men and women who
this same walk, asked the same questions, faced the same darkness and
rejoiced in the same light. There is no way I can find wisdom just
depending on contemporary voices. The past - which is, if you're Catholic,
not really the past, of course - has a great deal to teach me. As I listen
and learn, I'm just trying to share that with others.
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