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Praying to a God who is larger than religion

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WE SIDE WITH THE MORNING: DAILY PRAYERS TO THE GOD OF HOPE
By William Cleary
Published by Sorin Books, $15.95

Anyone who has perused current book catalogs from religious publishing houses is aware of the questions surrounding the practice of prayer. Many persons of faith have apparently reassessed their traditional spiritual practices and found them wanting.

In light of a more contemporary worldview and its effects on religious thought, our long-held image of God as a patriarchal tribal deity (or a God “we can pinch”) is no longer credible. Feeling awkward in addressing a God behind “the cloud of unknowing,” many find themselves unsure of how they should pray. “How can we speak to a God who is not a ‘person’ -- a God who may or not be affected by our prayers?”

Put simply: “Does it make sense to pray?” If so, “how do we pray in a way that is true to our changed religious perspectives?”

As a result of this shift in religious imagination, many seem to be simply abandoning word prayers altogether and replacing them with nonverbal contemplation and/or spiritual disciplines found in other cultures.

Yet, there remains in the human heart a desire to talk to God in heart-to-heart communion -- at least some of the time. W.H. Auden rightly asked: “How do I know what I think until I hear what I say?” This is reason enough to retain verbal praying among one’s spiritual exercises.

In We Side With the Morning, William Cleary shows that the choice needn’t be reduced to either/or. There is middle ground: brief word prayers wrapped in the aura of contemplation. In this book of daily prayers, he offers thoughtful moments of communion with a God larger than any religion -- a God that is neither captured by nor confined to one, a God we now view as beyond all human imagining.

Cleary has told that he shares the prayers with spiritual but nonreligious persons in mind. Consequently, all traces of religious doctrines and traditional pious embellishments have been filtered out. There is no “Father, Son and Holy Ghost” in them; no Jesus nor Virgin Mother.

Rather, the praying person addresses the Creator, the heart’s desire, the divine energy in evolution, the God we cannot definitively name. Here, God is not a warm fuzzy to be cuddled and fawned over, but this does not deprive the prayers of affective warmth. It is their spare, no frills, presentation -- one might call it “nakedness” -- that creates a sense of intimacy between the person and God.

From his own spiritual musings, Cleary has put into words what may lie just below the awareness of others unable to express it. He poses troubling questions, bares doubts, admits of bewilderment, lauds the Creator, sings of the beauty and bounty in nature. There is gladness on some days, a haunting wistfulness on others. Best of all, Cleary humbly lets God be God.

Notable among the sentiments permeating the prayers are sustained hope that in the end all will be well, serene acceptance of what is, and munificent gratitude for all that has been given. At the end of each entry, one can almost picture Cleary gently snuffing out a prayer candle and closing the journal with his trademark ending, “May it be so.”

A short introduction offers his personal, very simple and workable approach to prayer. There is also a handy index listing the dates on which one may find suitable entries for particular moods, themes and special occasions, all arranged by category.

As gifts from Cleary’s own musings with God, these prayers should help people discover what is in their own hearts -- what they think and may need to say. Because of their brevity and purity, the prayers should not constitute an intrusion on anyone’s contemplative practices. Rather, they may offer a daily inspirational “push” for less verbal praying, and/or provide a tidy thought to carry in one’s heart throughout the day.

[Regina Schulte has a master’s degree in theology from the University of Notre Dame and a doctorate in theology from Marquette University. Her book reviews appear regularly in Corpus Reports.]

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