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I Told the Mountain to Move
by Patricia Raybon
Tyndale, 2005

review by Katie Cogan

Sometimes a book comes along that, for the reader, feels like an intimate conversation with a good friend over coffee. Patricia Raybon’s, I Told the Mountain to Move is just such a book. Having spent her entire life in African American Christian churches, Raybon, an award-winning journalist, finds herself, at 55 years old, not really knowing how to pray. In this memoir of her spiritual journey, she offers the reader a close-up and personal glimpse into her experiences and her struggles as she enrolls in “Jesus’ school of prayer.”

The book begins with Raybon’s husband developing a sudden life-threatening illness, challenging her to stop crying and start praying. This is a difficult task for her in light of their recent marital discord. She enlists the help of “prayer warriors” - classic and contemporary Christian writers, including Richard Foster, R.A. Torrey, Andrew Murray, Oswald Chambers, and Mother Teresa, just to name a few. She studies their words about prayer and asks the Holy Spirit to give her the wisdom to learn from them.

Her transformational education is woven in and out of stories recounting the trials and tribulations of her own family life. Raybon discusses conflicts with her two grown daughters, one a single mother struggling to make ends meet, and the other a college student who leaves the Christian church to become an Orthodox Muslim. She also comes to terms with her alienated relationship with her aging mother. Raybon begins to sit with God and stop begging. She learns that “prayer is not about getting things; prayer is about getting changed,” and change she does in the most inspiring ways.

I found myself immediately pulled into her story, wanting to read quickly to discover what would happen next, yet needing to slow down and savor the simple and powerful messages about prayer. Raybon takes the reader through 24 lessons where we learn along with her about various topics including “Have Faith but be Precise," "Heed the Holy Spirit," "Get Quiet with God," and "Serve with Love.” Raybon is brutally honest about her failings and disappointments. She encourages complete surrender of the will and trust in the love of God. She presents a message that has been heard time and again, but she presents it with such refreshing sincerity and enthusiasm, I found myself believing that, following in her footsteps, I, too, could find the joy and exuberance she eventually realizes.

Raybon’s conversational writing style creates a feeling of warmth and openness. What could have been a long-winded theological discourse instead is rendered into refreshingly understandable insights into the work of important spiritual writers. For example, she quotes John Wesley on the purpose of a spiritual fast and translates his words through the use of a lovely story that takes place in a crowded waiting room where Raybon anxiously awaits important test results on the first day of her own fast. Two screaming siblings fighting while their haggard parents look on with little care or concern irritate Raybon, who is trying to find some silence and peace in order to center herself in prayer. Confronted by her critical, angry thoughts, she realizes that fasting is causing her to see herself and her actions in a transformational way. She realizes that there is truth in what she has read, and leans down towards the children giving them a smile and some pens and paper for drawing.

Every chapter focuses on a specific lesson illustrated by the continuing story of Raybon’s struggle to come to terms with her life, and the joy she finds in authentic moments and in discovering a genuine relationship with God. Raybon lets go of wanting God to change things for her and finds herself changed instead. Peace replaces anxiety, anger and fear. On a particularly spectacular morning towards the end of her journey, she wakes up, sees “white snow and blue sky and sunshine and cheer on a lovely Colorado day,” and asks, “Is this how a prayer story ends?” Perhaps…yet I would venture to guess that each reader may begin his or her own prayer story as they reach the end of Raybon’s, taking a piece of her friendship along for the journey.

Copyright ©2005 Katie Cogan

I Told the Mountain to Move

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