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When Poets Pray, by Marilyn McEntyre

14 February 2020

Richard Lamey joins a conversation with encouragement

THIS short book demands slow and steady attention. It is not a book to read in one sitting: it is too rich and too deep for that kind of gorging. It is a book to be enjoyed, treasured, and prayed with. And the author is a sen­­­si­­­tive and thoughtful fellow pilgrim.

Marilyn McEntyre is an American academic and author. The heading on her blog reads: “Creating connec­tions between language, medicine, faith, and the world we share.”

When Poets Pray is a collection of 24 poems, each of which is followed by a prayerful and personal engage­ment with the text. The beauty of the book lies in the way in which McEntyre invites us to become part of a conversation with the writer
and McEntyre herself. We don’t just listen: we join in. It becomes a Trin­it­arian act of understanding and at­tentiveness as we listen to both voices and develop our thoughts and responses.

The poems are organised into five thematic sections — including Wrestling, Witnessing, and Nature’s God. Some of the poems are well-known, by T. S. Eliot, George Herbert, and John Donne, but others are not, including one by the author herself. There are some real treasures here, especially in the “Prayer” sec­tion.

McEntyre treasures a fundamental connection between poetry and prayer. Poetry is an essential part of her spirituality, and, as a teacher, she has frequently noticed that people find poetry a way into prayer. She rejoices in the way that poetry can teach us about prayer, since both in­­vite rather than instruct.

Her Introduction is both an eleg­ant summary of the purpose of the book and a gentle, confident call to connect our life of prayer with the world we live in. The Afterword is full of ideas about how to pray poems.

It is a humble book, and under­stated — which makes its integrity, encouragement, and clarity all the more inspiring, from one pilgrim to another.

The Revd Richard Lamey is the Rector of St Paul’s, Wokingham, and Area Dean of Sonning, in the diocese of Oxford.


When Poets Pray
Marilyn McEntyre
Eerdmans £14.99
Church Times Bookshop £13.50

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