Monday, July 14, 2014

Book Review: The Little Oratory

I read The Little Oratory while we were camping, cozied up in my flannel shirt next to the fire while the birds sang and the flies buzzed.  Finally, I'm getting around to posting my review, illustrated with random summer photos.

I was asked to review the book by Sophia Press, even after I told them I am a Protestant, a Mennonite to be exact.  They sent me the book in exchange for my review, so although I received the book for free, my opinions are my own.

I didn't know what a "little oratory" was before I read this book.  It is a home altar, an icon corner, a little spot of prayer at home.  I like that, although the more I read The Little Oratory, the more Mennonite I became.  From the recent fascination of Mennonites with high church practices, I know a little bit:  vespers, Lent, Advent, lectio divina, etc.  My mother and some of her sisters love to go to a Jesuit monastery for retreats and spiritual direction.  I come across this Catholic vocabulary in Leila's book and see its place in the larger setting.  But the larger setting is quite overwhelming and complex to this Mennonite.

My family doesn't have a prayer corner.  We sometimes read a Bible story book and sing together after supper. We usually pray before meals. Every night, I lay my hands on my children and bless them at bedtime.  And that's it.  We could benefit from some more spiritual practices, for sure.

The Little Oratory is quite encouraging for Catholics.  There is Leila's friendly, commonsense tone speaking directly to the reader (it's written in second person, "you").  I love the details of beeswax polish on page 33 and the actual order of the objects in the prayer corner on page 27.  I think I need to start a prayer intention journal, such as the one described on page 44.

I'm impressed with the clear (to this Mennonite) explanations of theology and the underpinnings for the little oratory.  Leila and her co-author, David Clayton, do not take the easy way of assuming that all their readers understand the need and genesis for a little oratory.  They go back to the essentials of a relationship with God and start from there.

An editorial quibble: I am not fond of the generic examples using "he" and "mankind" as I think this kind of language forms our ideas about who we are.  If a singular pronoun must be used, I would prefer to switch back and forth between genders and use "people" instead of "mankind."

I am a major fan of Leila's blog, Like Mother, Like Daughter.  I love the natural warmth and frank talk over there.  It's so hopeful to be cheered on by someone who admits she doesn't know what to do with a weedy yard or a dark kitchen or a house to clean.  There's the same cheering-on in The Little Oratory.  I'm sure Catholic readers will find it quite a blessing.


  1. I enjoyed your review. I had just been over that that blog and had seen the talk about her book, so your review was enlightening! :-)

  2. I have been loving The Little Oratory! I'm not Catholic either, but have found it to be so helpful and inspirational. I created my own little oratory-ish table, though not entirely fleshed-out yet. I read part of the book back in--early June?--and have not picked it back up again. I'm a big fan of the rhythm of the liturgical year, and Catholics seem to excel at this. Your post is a good reminder to pull the book out again and finish it before school starts again!

  3. Thanks for your honest review, Margo! I appreciate it and your perspective, which, as always, is thoughtful and has refreshing simplicity.
    As to the lack of inclusive language, it's quite intentional, of course -- as I completely agree that one is formed by the words one uses! There is a wealth of meaning that one loses by switching genders and letting go of such honest words as "mankind." Maybe someday we can have a friendly chat about it :)
    I am a fan of your blog as well! God bless!


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