Honest to God Prayer: Spirituality as Awareness, Empowerment, Relinquishment  and Paradox

This unique and encouraging guide to prayer explores how to engage in spirituality that blesses your soul—and the world. Offers innovative ways to pray in four metaphorical movements that parallel both Native American traditions and Ignatian spirituality.

Kent Ira Groff

6 x 9, 192 pp | 978-1-59473-433-5

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Maybe you’re praying and you don’t even know it.

In this unique and encouraging guide to prayer, Kent Ira Groff, a longtime retreat leader and inspiring writer-poet, explores how to engage in spirituality that blesses your soul—and the world. Whether you’re advanced or just starting on your spiritual path, this practical prayer path breaker will lure you in with its novel combination of touching, real-life stories, pithy thoughts and inspiring prayer practices.

For those turned off by shopworn religious language, it offers innovative ways to pray in four metaphorical movements that parallel both Native American traditions and Ignatian spirituality:

  • East—Morning / Prayer as Awareness
    Waking up to reality—opening
  • South—Noon / Prayer as Empowerment
    Embracing your dreams and possibilities—expanding
  • West—Afternoon / Prayer as Relinquishment
    Letting go of attachments—emptying
  • North—Night / Prayer as Paradox
    Uniting the opposites of life—integrating

Prayer practices for each of the four “movements” provide for personal and group enrichment at home and work, in formal programs and informal friendships. They interweave the author’s own experience to say: Ҕhis is honest to God spirituality and I’m seeing myself.

“Excellent.... Offers you a truly larger house to live in, and a house that will not confine you, but one filled with doors and windows—and plenty of skylight.”

Fr. Richard Rohr, OFM, Center for Action and Contemplation; author, Falling Upward and The Naked Now

“A rich and in-depth exploration of the ongoing expression of prayer in our spiritual journeys [and] an extraordinary resource for all seekers—from those who have well-established prayer practices to those for whom prayer is something new—who are spiritual but not religious. Easy to read yet filled with profound insights that inspire a deeper relationship with Source.”

Kay Lindahl, author, The Sacred Art of Listening: Forty Reflections for Cultivating a Spiritual Practice; and other books

“A sublime spiritual companion on the path toward a life of empowered, authentic prayer. Shares from the wisdom of a variety of faith traditions [and] equips us to embrace a truly awakened spiritual life—the kind we’ve always dreamed of and prayed for.”

The Rev. Peter M. Wallace, host of Day1; author, The Passionate Jesus: What We Can Learn from Jesus about Love, Fear, Grief, Joy and Living Authentically

“[A] wonderful trailbreaker on the spiritual life.... If you pray for stuff, don’t read this book. If you pray for wisdom, read it twice.”

Rabbi Rami Shapiro, author, The Sacred Art of Lovingkindness: Preparing to Practice; and other books

“If you yearn for real-life spiritual renewal, this book is for you! Wherever you open these pages, you will find resources, guidance, grace and honest companionship for your own prayerful journey.”

Heidi Neumark, Lutheran pastor; author, Breathing Space: A Spiritual Journey in the South Bronx

“Opens the curtains on a new perspective, enabling the sunlight of a new way to break in.... Rubs the eyes of tired ecclesia and provides plentiful resources toward discarding unnecessary angst. Here is a holistic guidebook for prayer, particularly for those who haven’t got a prayer.”

Scott Burton, minister of St. Matthew’s Church, Perth, Scotland; author, Holy Whitewater: Reflections on the Spirituality of Kayaking

“Lively and packed with wisdom from many traditions.... Offers a rich feast of possibilities for weaving prayer through daily life. I found myself marking page after page with a resounding, �Yes!’”

Nancy L. Bieber, author, Decision Making & Spiritual Discernment: The Sacred Art of Finding Your Way

“Groff blurs the line between the folks who are religious and folks who claim spirituality by mining truths in a variety of traditions and offering them to us in story, insight and poetry. Honest to God ... I love it!”

Nancy Corcoran, CSJ, author, Secrets of Prayer: A Multifaith Guide to Creating Personal Prayer in Your Life; Catholic chaplain, Wellesley College

“Will enrich people active in their faith traditions as well as the growing number of people describing themselves as spiritual but not religious. Helps you see God in all things and all things in God.”

Bruce Epperly, author, Tending to the Holy: The Practice of the Presence of God in Ministry and Holy Adventure: 41 Days of Audacious Living

“Remind[s] us that prayer has its own movement and rhythm which we can learn to follow.... Weaves together the wisdom to be learned from the seasons of the day, Ignatian prayer and Native American spirituality in ways that respect the integrity of each, but where each is enriched by the other.... Offers the reader a multiplicity of concrete ways to pray that are both ancient and fresh, [and] an enlivening vision in a sometimes tired field of spirituality volumes.”

Christine Valters Paintner, PhD, author, Desert Fathers and Mothers: Early Christian Wisdom Sayings—Annotated & Explained and Lectio Divina—The Sacred Art: Transforming Words & Images into Heart-Centered Prayer

Index of Prayer Practices vii
Orientation ix
Integrating Native American and
Ignatian Spiritual Streams xvii

Theme I Prayer as Awareness: Opening
Chapter One. Waking Up to Reality
The Grounding for Awareness 3
Chapter Two. Living Awake to What Is
The Process of Awareness 13
Practices for Cultivating Awareness 27

Theme II Prayer as Empowerment: Expanding
Chapter Three. Claiming Possibilities
The Grounding for Empowerment 33
Chapter Four. Embracing Dreams
The Process of Empowerment 51
Practices for Cultivating Empowerment 65

Theme III Prayer as Relinquishment: Emptying
Chapter Five. Negative Capability
The Grounding for Relinquishment 73
Chapter Six. Shedding Attachments
The Process of Relinquishment 85
Practices for Cultivating Relinquishment 101

Theme IV Prayer as Paradox: Integrating
Chapter Seven. Rediscovering Mystery
The Grounding for Paradox 107
Chapter Eight. The Active Contemplative Life
The Process of Paradox 123
Practices for Cultivating Paradox 141

Bring It All Together
Morning Prayer in Four Directions 145
Acknowledgments 151
Notes 153
Resources for Further Reading 157


What do you hope the reader will gain from your book? What makes it unique?
People tell me they like the way I connect ideas for the head and practices for the heart. For example, in chapter one I explain the meaning of the Buddhist death meditation or dying to self in the Christian Gospels and talk about how brushes with death can shake us awake to see again with the eyes of a child. Then in a section on practices for cultivating awareness, I offer guided meditations to experience seeing with the eyes of a child.

Why might a secular book group decide to read a book on prayer?
Often in a book club you�ll have some who’d say they are pretty much atheists or agnostics, others who’d call themselves spiritual but not religious and a few who are involved in religious communities. I want religious folks to be challenged by the others’ questions and nonreligious folks to be challenged by the others’ faith. You discover your passion when you challenge each other.

How did you come up with the title Honest to God Prayer?
Five decades ago, Bishop John A. T. Robinson�s classic bestseller Honest to God ushered a Copernican revolution into our everyday language for and views of God. Instead of a God “up there” or “out there,” Robinson drew on Paul Tillich’s idea of God as the ground of our being, as depth in every sphere of life. In Honest to God Prayer I aim to integrate such ideas about God with your experience of God, using the ideas as grounding for the process of practicing prayer.

Can you give an example of getting beyond religious language?
Prayer can seem like such a religious word that many people may view it as a clich� or dismiss it. So I suggest that to pray is to yearn for something beyond ourselves, and prayer in its many forms is how we express that yearning. I want to show that you can be praying while doing household chores or reading a book or paying attention to your breathing.


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Orientation and Prologue

  • How have you experienced the four movements of prayer (as awareness, empowerment, relinquishment and paradox)? Which of these tends to get shortchanged?
  • Are you familiar with the Native American four directions or with the Ignatian (Jesuit) tradition of the four themes (“weeks”) of Ignatius’s Spiritual Exercises? What is your response to the parallels the author suggests?
  • At what points in your life have you experienced waking up to reality, embracing dreams, letting go of attachments or integrating seeming opposites?

Prayer as Awareness (Theme One)

  • “The direction for awakening in primal and biblical traditions is East, and its time is dawn.” What practices help you awaken your awareness?
  • “To restore the healthy child in yourself is to live with soul, awake with all the senses to life’s pain and play.” How do you think our Western society either encourages or discourages the healthy child in us?
  • Scan over the nine Multiple Intelligences (pp.18�19). Which ones describe ways of prayer and spirituality that seem natural for you? Which ones would stretch you in your spiritual life?
  • “By meditating with the ‘what is’ of our experiences, we begin to see traces of grace rising from the grit of our own or others� defeats and discouragements.” When have you noticed some trace of grace in the grit? Pause to reflect. Then share.
  • Glance over the prayer poem “Who Is the You I Pray To?” in chapter 2. What phrase or metaphor speaks to you? disturbs you? delights you?
  • Read aloud the dialogue between master and disciples at the end of chapter 2. Can you recall some momentary glimpse of spiritual awareness that happened for you on the road? Pause to reflect. Then listen to a few such stories.
  • If moments of awareness happen far more often on the road than in a temple or during personal prayer, why pray or meditate?
  • What do you think about the idea that listening to the body can be an opening to spiritual awareness?

Prayer as Empowerment (Theme Two)

  • “Honest to God empowerment means noticing, offering and listening to your gifts in order to claim your own potential for transforming the world.” How does this message sound like or unlike what you’ve heard from your family, from instructors, from the culture around you?
  • How do you respond to Kierkegaard’s parallel of prayer to breathing?
  • How is imagination as a spiritual or human quality valued in our society, in your experience?
  • What would it mean to speak with your own voice?
  • How does the ancient metaphor of the tree of life speak to you of the need for balance between contemplation and action? How do you attend to this balance?
  • How do you respond to the idea of creative questions as a spiritual practice for empowerment? How could you cultivate this practice in your relationships?
  • Which parts of your life mission do you see as expressed in intimacy (cultivating meaningful relationships) and generativity (doing fruitful work in the world)?

Prayer as Relinquishment (Theme Three)

  • We tend to think it is only in the afternoon of life that we experience losses. But think again. What sort of losses have you seen children experience? What sort of losses did you experience as a child?
  • How can the diminishments of our life become for us a source of good? How have you seen this in your own life?
  • When have you experienced a time of emptiness or liminal space as a fertile time for gestation or renewal? Or for organizations or institutions?
  • Find the Beatles’ song “Let It Be� and play it for yourself or for your group (following practice 18). Share your reflections.

Prayer as Paradox (Theme Four)

  • How do the two words eclectic and integrative describe spirituality differently?
  • In what ways can you cultivate an integrative life that is true to the core of your own being rather than merely adding on new experiences?
  • What are some of the seeming opposites that you seek to integrate into creative paradox in your life?
  • When have your experienced a felix culpa—a good mistake—in your life?
  • How can you cultivate the tao of simplicity and complexity—simplexity?
  • Note the seven suggested practices for integrating both/and spiritual living. To which ones do you feel drawn to pay more attention? Which ones make the most sense to you? Which ones seem most countercultural?
  • What insight of intention will you take away from reading Honest to God Prayer?