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Patricia Raybon
Tyndale House Publishers
ISBN: 0842387978

"Prayer is an art. And maybe more than that, it's a calling," writes Patricia Raybon in I TOLD THE MOUNTAIN TO MOVE, a memoir on the most familiar yet most mysterious of the spiritual disciplines.

"'The highest part of the work entrusted to us, the root and strength of all other work,' [Andrew] Murray declared. Nothing, he insisted, should we study and practice more than the work of praying. And this praying, he said, which at first 'appears so simple,' turns out to be the hardest thing of all, because it's about developing a relationship."

I TOLD THE MOUNTAIN TO MOVE is a real gem. I have rarely read a book that made the intrinsically intangible spiritual practice of prayer something I could wrap my arms around. The writing is both fluid and substantial as Raybon blends her own hard-won insight with that found in classic texts written by lauded theologians including R.A. Torrey, Richard Foster, and Eugene Peterson.

Her journey toward developing an intimate relationship with Christ through prayer starts in mid-life --- when dissatisfaction stemming from a cold marriage, a frustrating mother, and disappointing choices made by her children left her feeling restless.

"I was in a standoff with a marriage gone dry, with a life drained empty. But this go-round, instead of pushing back, I would look up to heaven and surrender. Finally now, I vowed to learn, as Richard Foster put it, the real way to pray:

Pray so things healed.
Pray so things stopped.
Pray so things started.
Pray so things changed.

I was desperate, indeed, to learn all of prayer's little secrets, to master all of its hidden methods."

She proceeds to devour books on the subject and reflects on the lessons learned about faith growing up in her family and her church --- both African-American and in the '50s. And she does learn. "The more focused on God, in fact, the less I worried about my household's ongoing and never-ending dramas and irritations and problems," she writes.

But this newfound commitment to prayer is tested when Raybon's husband becomes desperately sick to the point of paralysis due to a tangle of malformed veins on his spinal cord near his brain stem. It continues to be tested as their younger daughter, Alana, abandons her family's Christian faith and dabbles in the Nation of Islam before moving on to become an orthodox Muslim.

Raybon presents an interesting-to-read picture of a woman wrestling with her own flaws and those of the people in her life, trying to learn to love. Women from different racial and cultural backgrounds as well as those from different generations than the author (as I am) will recognize themselves in her defeats, victories, and everything that comes in between. That she is able to capture what is universal about the Christian life for women would alone make the book a worthwhile read.

But on top of that, she presents a compelling vision of how prayer can inform and shape life. So often books about prayer are distant and all-too theoretical. As this author tells it, prayer is a well of encouragement, peace, faith, and hope, and those nice ideas take shape through the experiences she shares. I TOLD THE MOUNTAIN TO MOVE strips away our often-childish notions about what prayer is and makes it something vital and, while not easy, possible. The work it takes to dig that well is worth the effort, and Raybon provides the tools (honest lessons from her own experience, Scripture, other authors to read on the topic of prayer, etc.) and the inspiration to help you break ground.

   --- Reviewed by Lisa Ann Cockrel

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