Reclaiming and Reimagining Prayer
A Review of
A Rhythm of Prayer: A Collection of Meditations for Renewal
Sarah Bessey, Editor
Hardback: Convergent Books, 2021
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Reviewed by Ope Bukola
“Sometimes when we lose prayer, it can be for the best: now that we no longer pray as we were taught, we are finally able to pray in both old and new words and silence.”
– Sarah Bessey, A Rhythm of Prayer
Here’s a weird confession: I’m still learning how to pray. In spite of having grown up in the church, exposed to Pentecostal African prayers and liturgical Lutheran ones, I’m still figuring out my own voice in prayer. I’ve spent much of the past year (re)discovering different prayer traditions of the church, from Lectio Divina to Tongsung Kido. And I readily admit that I am still learning. A year ago, this might have made me uneasy but today it’s a bit of comfort. After all, the disciples themselves asked: Lord, teach us how to pray.
A Rhythm of Prayer, beautifully edited by Sarah Bessey, is a collection of prayers from diverse female voices. And these prayers are rhythmic! There are prayers that could fit in an Episcopal songbook, and prayers that would be at home in a protest march. There are poems, letters, confessions. There were a few moments while reading that reminded me of the first time reading the whole Bible and coming across some of the more “spicy” stories and thinking “wait, this is in the Bible?!?” One note I wrote in the margins was: “wait, is this a prayer or a rant?!?”
One of my favorite contributions is an essay by Reverend Winnie Varghese, where she describes attending prayer meetings in which she didn’t speak the language of the other attendees. The gatherings ended with a large meal. And that is a form of a prayer. Prayer is a poem, an encouraging verse from scripture, a quote from a secular source that draws you to God, a memory of your family, even a bountiful meal. It’s all the ways we gather ourselves to our father. As Bessey explains in the essays interspersed throughout, that’s exactly the point. The faith journey is complicated and so are the ways we commune with and speak with God. We can be conditioned to believe that prayer has to happen in a specific posture or sound a particular way. But the examples in the collection encourage us to take a more expansive view for where prayer happens, what we say (sometimes nothing), and how we say it.
One surprising side-effect of the collection was the way it inspired small actions. I was so compelled by Micha Boyett’s “Prayer Against Efficiency” that I immediately took a screenshot and sent it to two fellow devotees of productivity hacks. Inspired, we started writing our own prayers against efficiency (Loving God who is greater than GCal, have mercy). Osheta Moore’s “Reconciliation Soup” stuck with me for a few days, and instead of filling the evening with the usual podcasts, I found myself prayerfully cooking, offering gratitude for my provisions and petitions for the many families who find themselves at food banks for the first time in this pandemic.
In the introduction to the volume, Bessey describes her desire to create a literary space for those who might find themselves struggling to pray the way they were taught or used to. Her hope is to help people reimagine their prayer life because “the work of reclaiming and reimagining is good hard holy work.” I found many examples that stirred my imagination and action. I don’t know if this book will teach you to pray. But it will expand your imagination of the shapes and rhythms that prayer can take so that, with God’s grace, you might begin to find your own path.
Reading for the Common Good
From ERB Editor Christopher Smith
"This book will inspire, motivate and challenge anyone who cares a whit about the written word, the world of ideas, the shape of our communities and the life of the church."
-Karen Swallow Prior
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