Friday, December 21, 2007

book review: How Strong Women Pray by Bonnie St. James

Title: How Strong Women Pray
Author: Bonnie St. James
Publisher: Faith Words - Hachette Book Group USA, 2007
Genre: Christian living, Inspirational
ISBN: 0446579262

Bonnie St. James is a strong woman if there ever was one. After her right leg was amputated as a child, she not only won a silver Paralympic medal in downhill skiing (1984), but she earned degrees at Harvard and Oxford, worked in the White House as a director, and has since established herself as a writer and motivational speaker. But she would be the first to tell you she could never have done it without prayer and God’s help.

In the book How Strong Women Pray, Bonnie tells her story in twenty-five chapters that are woven between the stories of twenty-seven other strong women as diverse as Afghanistan soldier Karen Kim, former First Lady Barbara Bush, and poet Maya Angelou.

The book is divided into six sections that follow the path of Bonnie’s life starting with childhood (“Facing Life’s Storms with Childlike Faith”), youth (“Climbing the World’s Highest Mountain”), marriage (“From Marriage to Politics: Powerful Relationships”), motherhood (“Motherhood and Working with the Spirit”), overcoming the demons of the past (“In the Valley We Grow” – where she tells of her wrestle with the buried memories of early childhood sexual abuse), and, finally, moving on with hope (“And Still I Rise”).

All the stories are powerful in their own way. In the chapters where the various women give their perspectives on prayer, each woman is introduced briefly in a vignette from her life. The voice then changes (signified in the text by a font change) to the woman telling her own story and giving her thoughts on prayer. Thus the writing voices and the insights are as varied and interesting as talking with twenty-seven different women. For example, Martha Williamson tells the story of how she came to produce the TV series “Touched by an Angel.” Colette Branch tells of how she evacuated 100 clients plus about 200 employees from New Orleans just before Hurricane Katrina hit. Kathy and Barbara Ireland (daughter and mother) talk about 18-year-old Kathy’s foray into the international professional modeling scene while at home Barbara prayed.

Here are some examples of some of the book’s prayer insights:

“I never feel closer to God than when I’m dancing. I dance all over the house like other people sing in the shower. I choreograph movements for the Lord’s Prayer.” – Dr. Suzanne Karefe-Johnson, hospice physician.

“Prayer isn’t about alerting Him to my needs, it’s about my heart being changed.” – Janet Parshall, radio show host.

“I prayed for my enemy to go away. I told God, ‘I know that this person is like me. He’s a human being. He has kindness somewhere deep down. I pray that the humanity in him will come out..... I began to see the harshness leave his face….I could actually see evil flying from his spirit. I knew God was there.” – ImmaculĂ©e Ilibagiza, Rwandan genocide survivor.

Bonnie tells her own story all in first person. Her prose is brisk and lively. She never sounds whiny or self-pitying as she recounts the challenges she faced in every new venture, though there are parts which would have warranted it. I was moved by her transparency, especially when she shared bitter details (always tastefully of course) from her early childhood. Her love of people is evident and she comes across as a joyful, whole woman who has found such a wonderful thing in prayer and a relationship with God that she can’t help but share it with others.

The sturdy little hardcover (black print on creamy white paper) has a nice heft. Under the colorful dust jacket, the covers are red with gold writing on a white spine.

As someone who has prayed for as long as I can remember, this book with its many stories about and perspectives on prayer helped me gain a new appreciation for the treasure it is. I saw my own practice reflected in some of the stories while others challenged me to pray in new ways. Whether you are a woman who is committed to prayer, or someone who has only had the odd thought of giving it a try, I’m sure you’ll find How Strong Women Pray has something to say to you too.


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