THE late and much beloved writer Rachel Held Evans wrote: “I am writing because sometimes we are closer to the truth in our vulnerability than in our safe certainties.” Sarah Bessey, old friend of Held Evans and editor of this often extraordinary collection of prayers and meditations, adds this: “This is also part of the way we are praying.”
These prayers, then, which are written by women from a diverse range of cultural backgrounds, draw not only on vulnerability, but a deep sense of mourning and loss. Many of the writers have travelled far from the conservative faith of their youth, and part of the richness of their work lies in the discovery of God far beyond authorised conventions of tradition. Nevertheless, these prayers are moving precisely because so many of the contributors wrestle with the loss of the simple rhythms of prayer which they knew in childhood and youth.
Bessey’s collection includes work from some very well-known writers. Barbara Brown Taylor, Nadia Bolz-Weber, and Winnie Varghese speak with their usual sharpness about what it means to pray beyond the “authorised”
It is, however, some of the lesser-known voices which stun and startle. Alia Joy’s meditation on living with bipolarity is shattering, while Micha Boyett’s “A Prayer Against Efficiency” invites us to be attentive to those ordinary rhythms of life which subvert our obsessions with control.
There is also a kind of channelled rage, which suffuses many of the contributions. This is hardly surprising. Many of these prayers, including “A Prayer for America” by Lisa Sharon Harper, are written out of the brutal division of the Trump years. A Rhythm of Prayer find much of its dignity and power in a world marked by #MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter.
I hope that this book receives widespread use. It is helpfully structured in three parts —Orientation, Disorientation, and Reorientation (drawing on Brueggemann’s classic analysis of the Psalms) — and it is permission-giving. It invited me to be utterly real in prayer. Finally, it is a book full of God-seared words. Bessey’s closing “Benediction” is heart-stopping. A searching book, then, and a timely one.
Canon Rachel Mann is Rector of St Nicholas’s, Burnage, and a Visiting Fellow of Manchester Met University.
A Rhythm of Prayer: A collection of meditations for renewal
Sarah Bessey, editor
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