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
Church Times Bookshop £13.50