Prayer for some people is as easy as breathing. Others find it much harder – what's it all about? How should we do it, what should we say, what happens if it doesn't work – and what does 'work' mean, anyway?
Then we might think we're over-thinking the whole business, as though we were a professor of systematic theology at a prestigious university, when what we really need is just to do it. Because surely, the more you know about theology, the more complicated prayer gets?
That's where a little book by Luigi Gioia surprises. He has written the Archbishop of Canterbury's Lent book, commended by Justin Welby for study during the following weeks. It's called Say it to God; the title is simple and the contents are instantly accessible while being deeply meaningful. And Gioia is professor of theology at the Pontifical University of Sant'Anselmo in Rome and a researcher at the University of Cambridge.
Say it to God is full of wisdom, but while you're aware of the scholarship behind it, this is never paraded. He might quote Bernard of Clairvaux, but he also bases a chapter on George Michael.
At the heart of the book is the perception that prayer is not about technique, but trust – trust that God is really interested in everything that happens to us. Among the phrases that resonate and stick in the mind is a quote from a Benedicine monk who told him that 'the test that your prayer is authentic is learning how to turn everything into prayer'. 'Any scrap of wood is good to feed fire,' he said. We shouldn't abandon prayer because we don't have time, or we're surrounded by noise and people, or because we're stressed: 'any scrap of wood...'
He's perceptive too on the 'always on' society we live in today, where we're never out of reach. 'The logic of our modern society is dominated by the dread of emptiness, or what appears to be emptiness to people who have never learnt the value of silence or meditation...'
In his introduction, Justin Welby says: 'Liugi Gioia encourages us to respond to God's prompting, to face what gets in our way and to follow with child-like trust to explore a new way of being with God: to pray as, and with, Jesus, in freedom and trust.'
In an interview with Crux, Gioia says Welby is an a admirer of Catholic spirituality who often goes on retreat to monastic communities in France.
'I believe it is a sign of the times: we are eager to learn from each other and are able to overcome our suspicions against each other,' he says, suggesting Welby wanted a book about prayer for Lent this year in connection with the global prayer movement 'Thy Kingdom Come'.
He closes his book with some advice about prayer: keep it simple, keep it short, keep it frequent, keep it real. Of the latter, he says: 'Nothing of what you do, think, love, hate, suffer, enjoy, hope, fear, dread, desire – nothing is unworthy of God – there is nothing that you cannot convert into prayer.'
'Say it to God' is published by Bloomsbury, price £9.99.