A Review of
Every Moment Holy
Reviewed by C. Christopher Smith
As one who grew up in an evangelical tradition that was a far cry from liturgical, but who has come to appreciate the liturgical tradition over the last couple of decades, I often wonder about the proliferation of prayerbooks. Of course, there are the traditional ones, the breviary of the Roman Catholic tradition and The Book of Common Prayer in the Anglican tradition. But over the last quarter century, we’ve seen the arrival of a host of prayerbooks that are not so intimately tied to a church tradition. The first, and likely foremost, of these being Phyllis Tickle’s The Divine Hours. Also in this category would be Common Prayer, compiled by Shane Claiborne, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, and Enuma Okora. I have come to appreciate all of these prayerbooks, but when will we reach a saturation point, when we really don’t need yet another prayerbook?
I don’t have an answer for that question, but I recently have been reading and praying through Douglas McKelvey’s Every Moment Holy, and I have been delighted to find it a thoroughly unique sort of prayerbook, one that is extraordinary and much-needed. First, the structure of this book is shaped not around gatherings of the church or fixed hours for prayer, but rather around the ordinary moments of our lives, offering liturgies, among many other things, for the making of a meal, for the making of a hurried meal (I’m sorely tempted to write out this prayer and hang it in my kitchen), for sleeping in tents, and for paying bills. In our technological society that streaks at breakneck speed through days and years, we are sorely tempted to forget that God’s Spirit is ever-present with us, desiring to guide us and transform us. The prayers of Every Moment Holy challenge us to slow down and recognize both God’s presence with us and God’s desire to reconcile us with our fellow humans that we move among on a daily basis. We need this sort of intentionality to remind us that God is present with us, and these elegantly penned prayers do orient us to God’s presence.
I would add that not only are the prayers written with extraordinary beauty, the book itself is exquisitely crafted by the gifted book artist Ned Bustard, with attention to fonts and lavish margins, and illustrated with Bustard’s own monochrome prints. A hardback bound in leather, this book is designed to last through a host of moments. One distinctive of this prayerbook is that it is deeply oriented toward the spheres of the personal and the family. In contrast to most prayerbooks, the primary space of its domain is not the church, but the home. On one hand, I love this orientation – that all of our sleeping and eating and working lives are subsumed within our life of faith in the people of God. On the other hand, it does render itself susceptible to the prevailing forces of individualism in Western culture, forces that subtly feed us the lie that we don’t need the church. The challenge here is not in the book itself, but in the frame of mind with which we pray its prayers. Put another way, who is this God that is ever-present with us, the scriptural God that is gathering a people who bear witness through all the moment of our lives to the reconciling work of Christ, or an American sort of God that is primarily concerned with the private, eternal salvation of souls and less concerned with social realities?
Every Moment Holy is an extraordinary, and much-needed, prayerbook. I will return to its prayers often as opportunities in my daily life bring them to mind. I need – and I suspect that many others also need – its gentle reminders that whatever we do in our daily lives, God is present with us and seeks to be revealed to us in all the divine glory in that moment. We would do well to prepare our hearts and minds, as Every Moment Holy chastens us to do, to encounter the presence of our
C. Christopher Smith is editor-in-chief of The Englewood Review of Books, and author of several books, the newest of which is How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press).