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Spiritual Practice Training & Coaching: Four Books and an Educational Design

One of the central needs in shaping a healthy, faithful parish is equipping members of the Body for a competent Christian prayer life.

I want to suggest four books and an educational design for your use in that work. The books are compatible with one another. They come at many of the same concerns and spiritual practices with somewhat different emphases and ways of serving the parish. Yet they will easily harmonize and offer the parish a balanced and rooted set of resources. 


In Your Holy Spirit: Traditional Spiritual Practices for Today’s Christian Life, Michelle Heyne, OA 

Web page 

Contents – Our Key Assumptions & How to use this Book * The Weekly Practice: Holy Eucharist * The Daily Practice: Daily Prayers of the Church * Reflection * Participating in Community * Service * The Process of Spiritual Growth

The most common way parishes use this book is by offering a five-session class that is a mix of teaching and experiential learning. Michelle Heyne has provided an educational design for the sessions – “Teaching Spiritual Practice: An Experiential Approach to Christian Formation and Parish Development; Education Designs in the Anglican Tradition.”

The Diocese of Georgia has used the book as its selection for reading in Advent and Lent. Many parishes have copies available for sale to individuals as well as using it in the training classes.

The book along with the educational design offers a parish a way into developing Christian proficiency among a larger number of the baptized. Recently, a young woman reading the book said how much she liked it. “Especially the way Michelle adds in snarky comments.”

Recommendation: For broad use in the parish. Have copies for sale , along with the Prayer Book, on a table where you do coffee hour.


Life in Christ: Practicing Christian Spirituality, Julia Gatta

Web page

Contents – Introduction: The Heart’s Longing * Reliving Christ’s Death and Resurrection * Communion with Christ * Sanctifying Time through the Liturgical Round * Prayer in Solitude * Practices for the Journey

Mother Julia has been teaching this for most of her adult life. As parish priest, spiritual director and seminary professor she has served as an instrument of the Divine Compassion as regular parishioners begin to see Christian life in a fuller way.

Even with seminarians preparing for ordination she finds they frequently have had no serious training in the spiritual life. She writes, “Inevitably, within the first few weeks of teaching, a student will ask with some indignation, ‘Why didn’t anyone ever tell us this before?”

Recommendation: For a book reading group in the parish that wants to learn more. Best offered after having completed Michelle Heyne’s five session course.


Christian Proficiency, Martin Thornton

Web page

Contents – “Proficiency in Christian Tradition * “Proficiency and Doctrine * The Christian Framework * Spiritual Direction * Rule * Recollection * Mental Prayer * Colloquy * Self-Examination and Confession * Some Aids and Advantages * Some Difficulties and Dangers * Contingency in Modern Life * Christian Maturity in the World * The Progress to Maturity: Conclusion

The book is written for “the faithful laity.” Clergy need to read it so they have something intelligent to say when asked “how should I pray?” This is for those who are not just beginning the journey. For those ready for an adult relationship with God and accepting responsibility for their own spiritual life and responsibilities in daily life.

Thornton’s book is the third reading on Thursday at Evening Prayer in the parish I attend.  His sense of humor occasionally catches the congregation by surprise and laughter erupts.

Recommendation: For a more advanced reading group; after making use of the other books. A resource for those preaching and coaching people in spiritual practices. A possible spiritual life reading at the Daily Office.


Practicing Prayer: A Handbook, Lowell Grisham, OA

Web page

Contents - Kinds of Prayer * Personal Use of Corporate Prayer * The Daily Office * Personal Devotions * Preparation for Prayer * Meditating with Scripture  (Lectio Divina, Ignatian Method of Prayer, The Sulpician Method of Prayer *  Other Forms of Kataphatic Prayer (A.C.T.S. Method of Prayer,  Conversational Prayer, Praying with Nature) * Toward Apophatic Prayer (Breath Prayer, Mantra, Centering Prayer) * The Four Rs (Living and Praying in the Present Moment,  Faith Not Works) * Conclusion

Fr. Lowell offers this thought, “Many Christians desire to pray and may have a gift for praying, but need instruction, support, and direction. That is the purpose of this booklet.”

Recommendation: In a class on personal devotions. Make available for sale to anyone in the parish for personal reading.


Supporting books – useful for spiritual guidance and training; adding material to the above books.

 Paths in Spirituality, 2nd edition,  John Macquarrie

In Your Holy Spirit, Shaping the Parish Through Spiritual Practice, Robert Gallagher, OA


A few thoughts

If you are a parish priest you may want to engage the question put to Julia Gatta by her students, “Why didn’t anyone ever tell us this before?” 

Do two things.


  1. Interview every parishioner, willing to be interviewed, about their spiritual life. Use an ascetical model such as the Renewal-Apostolate Cycle or the Benedictine Promise to give order to your questions and the conversation. Make it a personal goal that people will know you as a priest that is interested in their life, especially their prayer life. A priest who is open, curious, and non-judgmental about all the sentimental, inadequate stuff of our lives.
  2. Study and inwardly digest these books. Offer training and coaching in the parish for those who would like to be more competent in Christian spiritual practices. Make no judgements about those who are not interested.


If you are a lay person – ask your priest to do the above.

Finally, I want to share an idea for those within the monastic tradition.

Ask your sisters and brothers about the times people approach them seeking advice about the spiritual life. It’s natural enough. Many assume that the brothers and sisters who have given themselves to a more contemplative path, will have something to offer.

The brothers and sisters may find others attracted to them. Assuming that by vocation and formation they may have a word that address our own spiritual growth. 

My guess is that many of your companions feel inadequate when this happens. Maybe they share how it’s done in their own life and how their religious order handles such things.

They may need help in approaching the need from the perspective of the person asking the question.  It may be useful to think and understand spiritual practices as lived by a proficient parishioner. One not called to a monastic vocation. 

These four books may be a starting place for them.