September 2022: Book Review


Reviewer: Mary Adamson
Bryanstown, Drogheda


A Retreat with
the Lord’s Prayer

Nigel Woollen
Veritas Publications, 2022
978 1 80097 027 4 • pp 98

In The Father Wants to Heal You, Fr Nigel Woollen re-introduces readers to the Lord’s Prayer and accompanies us on a spiritually refreshing, meditative odyssey through this most ecumenical of prayers. The Pater Noster is a prayer for all times and for all people. Universally recognised, this eponymous term has insinuated itself into common parlance: students of geography are familiar with the glacial erosional paternoster lakes of Mount Brandon and, of course, the patter associated with entertainers is also a derivative of the Latin phrase. However, the Lord’s Prayer has an overarching importance and relevance for Christians; it draws us into the prayer of Jesus himself, because we address (as He did) our prayers to our heavenly Father.

     In his Preface, Fr Woollen acknowledges that ‘everyone is looking for the ultimate miracle prayer, the prayer that is always answered’ (p. 12). Certainly, it is not always easy for many of us to find or indeed to formulate the right words when we pray. Jesus’s own disciples encountered this all-too-human problem when they approached Him with the words ‘Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples’ (Luke 11:1). Even the learned and scripture-savvy St Paul was moved to admit that ‘when we do not know how to pray properly, then the Spirit personally makes our petitions for us in groans that cannot be put into words’ (Romans 8:26).

     In this slim volume, the author retrieves the Master’s words (Matthew 6:9-14) and sets out, according to the promotional commentary on the back cover, to present this familiar prayer in ‘an easily accessible and enjoyable format’ which ‘reinforces the significance of the Lord’s Prayer, exploring its connections to the seven sacraments and uncovering the deeper meanings it contains’. Here, Jesus’ own model of prayer is meticulously and diligently examined and readers are offered not only a deeper understanding of its content and meaning but we are also guided to an understanding of how it can transform and heal our lives. Clearly, while the Our Father is essentially a prayer for disciples of Jesus where we pledge to surrender ourselves to God’s will, it is also steadfastly theocentric as God’s interest is addressed first and the disciples’ interest come second (pps. 81-82). However, having acknowledged the particularity of the Lord’s Prayer, this author, who wears his theological learning lightly and firmly dons a pastoral hat, illuminates with wisdom and compassion how we should pray the Our Father. We can confidently trust that the One who hears our petitions has also promised to care for our needs (pps. 94-97).

    In his book, Letters to Malcolm (1964), C.S. Lewis outlines a spiritual practice he calls ‘festooning’ and shares his daily practice of festooning the Lord’s Prayer – embellishing the prayer with his own personal requests, concerns, and thoughts. Lewis writes, ‘I call them ‘festoons’, by the way, because they don’t (I trust) obliterate the plain sense of the petition but are merely hung on it’. Woollen’s imaginative, often comforting and always thought-provoking chapter headings e.g. We are Family; From Prodigal to Redeemed; Your Sins are Forgiven are supplemented by equally provocatively engaging sub-headings (Epiphanies of beauty; Let there be chocolate; Removing our block of ice; Keep calm and carry on etc.). Chapter by chapter, the reader is challenged, guided, mentored and supported while navigating the Lord’s own roadmap to holiness and fullness of life under the kindly watchful eye of a master ‘festooner’.

     Combining spiritual meditation, personal and homely anecdotes with a scholarly exegetical expertise, the author’s elegant yet accessible writing style will appeal to a broad parish of readers. The layout of the book in seven chapters facilitates private prayer, a personal retreat over the course of a week or RE work in the classroom. Here we are invited to scrutinise each well-known phrase as Fr Woollen directs our thoughts to what is important in life. Each of the petitions in the Lord’s Prayer is rendered in such a way that we seem to hear Jesus himself speaking to us as He shows us how to pray to his Father in the same spirit that He himself does. Petition by petition, he draws out the significance of Jesus’ words for prayer today and synopsises all that we must do to be ‘good and faithful servants’ i.e. worship God, accept His will, discern His Word, love each other through practising forgiveness and avoiding sin.

    In a reader-friendly, memorable style, The Father Wants to Heal You comprehensively fulfils Nigel Woollen’s stated objective ‘… to re-discover the Lord’s Prayer in a living, dynamic way …’ (p. 28) and in so doing enriches the reader’s life by providing an eminently relatable and insightful commentary for personal meditation and further spiritual formation.