Guest post by Tacy Williams Beck
The Little Oratory: A Beginner’s Guide to Praying in the Home
by Leila Marie Lawler and David Clayton
Sophia Institute Press, 2014
224 pp.; $17.20
American culture today has not only become increasingly secular, but it can often seem angry, selfish, lazy, and even violent on many levels. In this context, Leila Marie Lawler and David Clayton’s new book, The Little Oratory, is a breath of fresh air. Published as a large, handsome paperback with a crisp gold and blue cover and whimsical drawings throughout, this deceptively simple book about creating small prayer altars in the home is really a wonderful guide for how to embrace the beauty of our faith within the bounds of contemporary culture, and to do so in the context of our daily family life. One home at a time, a book like this could perhaps transform society. If nothing else, it can certainly transform your home life.
Considering the harried, narcissistic culture in which we live, what a contrast it is to consult this unassuming paperback, and to be filled with a momentary wonder and peace at what our homes could be—if only we could put forth a little effort toward that end! Even just picking up the book for a few minutes, one is struck by its aesthetic qualities. It calls us from the mundane to the holy and the noble. Even before reading it, the illustrations and the cover call us to that which is higher, to transformation.
But how can we be transformed? The Little Oratory highlights three ways we can seek to do that. First, we must be prayer-centered. Second, we must be counter-cultural. And third, we must renounce our pride. In doing so, we may yet see the redemption of our culture.
Making our homes prayer-centered is the answer to the frenzied pace of modern life. In a rushed and harried culture, we must slow down. Sitting to pray as a family, or stopping to do the Liturgy of the Hours might seem extraordinary in our times—or more specifically, in your own home. Yet, while starting the day with social media may be the norm, the daily readings and, perhaps a small to do list, are preferable and life-transforming. The authors include tips for incorporating the Hours when it may seem like “a lot of work.” They write, “if your experience is like ours, your life will gradually start to conform to the pattern of your prayer and you will find it easier to make time.” Lawler and Clayton urge us to simply keep trying until it is a normal part of a busy routine. The illustrations, such as a beautiful mother cradling her child, inspire the reader to do just that.
Second, we must be counter-cultural, rather than obsessed with material things or financial gain. To seek financial security isn’t wrong. In itself, it can contribute to a family’s sense of peace and well-being, one available to few people today. Yet this is what I love about The Little Oratory: its authors seek to redeem possessions rather than renounce them. The beauty of this book is in its little tips for creating prayer altars throughout the home, making it more beautiful, reminding the dwellers of the higher law of peace and love. A simple couple of items—a wreath, a vase of flowers, a bowl of decorated eggs—can turn our thoughts heavenward and assist us in prayer. A rosary of pearls hanging on a hook may well transform a dull corner into an inspiring one. The Kingdom of Heaven is like those pearls, and its entrance turns us from what is dull to what is bright, shining, and alive. And while not quickly won, nor easily found, it is a treasure well worth the cost.
Finally, The Little Oratory challenges us to renounce all pride for love of Jesus and our neighbor. This book taught me that we all have much room to grow. In particular, it reminded me that our strength comes from God alone. A Christian’s steadiness and even confidence in life must ultimately come from the love and peace that come from knowing Christ. One particular instance in which this meets our lives, practically speaking? Lawler and Clayton’s advice about the encouragement of spouses to engage in prayer. One chapter is entitled “Who Prays and Who Leads Prayer in the Little Oratory?” I loved this particular chapter, which considers the roles of various members within the family’s prayer life. In renouncing our own ego and self-absorption even in this area of life, which is so common in this day and age, we may find a momentary respite. We are also to follow our Father’s will and seek to know Jesus better. The Little Oratory offers us the opportunity of making this a common part of our everyday life—renouncing our own will for that of a Higher Law. In doing so, it is a book that just might change your life.