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An Inclusive Approach to Prayer

Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat

Eight Interfaith Prayer Books

Many people today are creating their own prayer books, collecting in a journal or a computer file favorite prayers from childhood, congregational experiences, retreats, and personal reading. Those of us on a multifaith or spiritually independent path are discovering that we are heir to all the devotional practices and resources of the world’s religions, including a wide variety of prayers. The following resources provide access to this rich heritage with new and old prayers that approach life’s experiences and the world around us with faith, love, compassion, justice, forgiveness, reverence, joy, and wonder.

  • In Secrets of Prayer: A Multifaith Guide to Creating Personal Prayer in Your Life (SkyLight Paths, 2007), Nancy Corcoran notes: “Just as we need physical diversity to survive, we also need spiritual diversity — nourishment from a variety of ‘soul foods’ — to grow spiritually. No one tradition or way of seeing the Divine will fit every human person or feed every human need. And therein lies another secret of prayer: Diversity in prayer is the food of spiritual growth.”

    Corcoran is a member of the Sisters of St. Joseph and founder of grass/roots: Women’s Spirituality Center. In this excellent multifaith resource, she presents prayer practices from many different traditions, adding some fascinating stories on multiple ways of experiencing the Holy. A chapter on the senses as a vehicle of prayer is filled with many helpful spiritual practices.

  • Stephanie Dowrick is a prolific writer, a trained psychotherapist, and a spiritual leader and teacher. In the opening chapter of Heaven on Earth: Timeless Prayers of Wisdom and Love (Tarcher/ Penguin, 2013) she praises prayer as a restorative process that anchors us, brings life back when our faith has faltered, and opens our hearts to the grace in our lives. It also is a very helpful resource in times of illness, loss, grief, and death.

    Dowrick offers the following advice on how to pray: pray in the present moment, make the prayer your own, check what motivates you, choose your prayers spontaneously, let instinct guide you, commit to prayer, pray often, and value the miracle. She uses these two quotations as ballasts for the book: “Prayer is a longing of the soul. . . . and an instrument of action” from Mahatma Gandhi and from Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel: “Prayer cannot bring water to parched fields, mend a broken bridge, or rebuild a broken city, but prayer can water an arid soul, mend a broken heart, and rebuild a weakened will.”

    In seven chapters, Dowrick shares a treasure-trove of prayers, quotations, and sacred texts from all the world’s religions and spiritual paths, giving the reader a chance to connect with God, the mysteries of human nature, the triumphs and tragedies of everyday life, and the ample wonders of light, love, and personal transformation.

  • God Has No Religion: Blending Traditions for Prayer (Sorin Books, 2005) by Francis Goulart is the kind of resource that should become a staple in these times when people of many traditions are regularly interacting. Blending traditions for prayer can deepen our own faith, as Karen Armstrong has pointed out: “By learning to pray the prayers of people who do not share our beliefs we can learn at a level deeper than creedal, to value their faith.”

    Today’s seeker has many prayer practices and prayerware (tools to assist us in our devotional life) to choose from, and the author takes a brief look at lectio divina, mantra, arrow prayers, labyrinth, prayer walking or walking mediation, the inner light meditation, prayer journaling, and many other styles. She covers prayers of the day; for healing and hope; for gratitude and grace; of contrition and atonement; for the Earth and the animals; for peace and justice; to the saints, angels, and ancestors; blessings; vows, pledges, and creeds; praise and devotion; affirmations and intentions; and litanies and mantras.

    Goulart’s suggestions for adapting these prayers to your own needs is helpful, as are her concrete practice ideas. We were happy to see prayers by many of our favorite spiritual writers, including Neil Douglas-Klotz, Mary Lou Kownacki, Jamie Sams, Daniel Berrigan, Nan Merrill, Dorothee Soelle, Stephanie Kaza, Thich Nhat Hanh, Brother David Steindl-Rast, and His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

  • Men Pray: Voices of Strength, Faith. Healing, Hope, and Courage (2013) has been put together by the editors of SkyLight Paths. They have organized this interfaith collection of prayers around five thematic modules: strength, faith, healing, hope, and courage. Bestselling author Brian McLaren commends this resource and writes: “A good man also knows the needs that surround him are too great for him to carry alone, so he shares them with God, whose heart is ever bigger, whose capacities to help are even greater than his own.”

    We especially like “The American Indian Ten Commandments” as a prayer of practice to serve and care for Mother Earth, John O’Donohue’s “The Space Between Us,” Ted Loder’s “Help Me Listen,” and Daniel Buttry’s “Turning the Negative Tide.”

  • She Who Prays: A Woman's Interfaith Prayer Book by Patricia Harris-Watkins and Jane Richardson Jensen (Jan 1, 2005) offers a novel interfaith perspective. “We see Divinity as an orb or a sphere with individual religions as longitudes and denominations or branches within a given religion as latitudes. So the distinctions that divide religions are primarily on the surface (though deeply felt). But if you cut a slice out of the sphere, you move away from the divisions and draw closer to what religions have in common — the Divine core,” write Jane Richardson Jensen and Patricia Harris-Watkins, two chaplains of Clare’s Place, a women’s spirituality center in College Station, Texas. They have assembled a soul-stretching interfaith resource that takes advantage of the riches and the wisdom of many religious traditions.

    Part One contains a seven-day cycle of daily prayer with the majority of readings from the hymns of St. Ephrem, a fourth-century church father who used feminine images of God and created materials for a women’s choir. There are also Earth cherishing prayers; petitions for hinge moments in women’s lives; and sections on a multipurpose calendar of rites, rituals and services for special occasions. This is an invaluable resource for anyone on a spiritual journey, but it will resonate especially with women searching for interfaith materials to incorporate into their devotional rites and celebrations.

  • “Let us take care of the children, for they have a long way to go. Let us take care of the elders, for they have come a long way. Let us take care of those in between, for they are doing the work.” This is from an African prayer included in Prayers for Healing: 365 Blessings, Poems, and Meditations From Around the World (Conari Press, 2000) edited by Maggie Oman Shannon, now an Interfaith minister in San Francisco.

    Here is a daily meditation tool starting with the Winter Solstice on December 21. The editor views healing in the broadest sense of the term, taking within its embrace physical, emotional, interpersonal, social, and ecological aspects.

    Again and again, the spiritual practice of connections is emphasized. For example, the Chinook Psalter tells us: “May all things move and be moved in me and know and be known in me. May all creation dance for joy within me.” Kahlil Gibran believes that wonder can be used as an antidote for pain. Joan Halifax prays: “May my body/Be a prayerstick/For the world.” Pierre Teilhard de Chardin celebrates the unity that binds us together with our neighbors, and Albert Schweitzer draws close to the suffering of animals in his thoughts. This excellent devotional volume also includes original prayers by Marion Woodman, Rachel Naomi Remen, Hugh Prather, Jack Kornfield, and many others.

  • In the introductory section of Earth Prayers from Around the World: 365 Prayers, Poems. and Invocations for Honoring the Earth ( HarperSanFrancisco 1991), editors Elizabeth Roberts and Elias Amidon note: “In preparing this book, we discovered that for many people today, it is not religious prayer at all, but poetry, that they turn to in their search for spiritual nourishment. Perhaps this is because so many conventional religious prayer books seem unable to consecrate the normal and the natural. Preoccupied with a world beyond this one, the revelatory power of the Earth goes unpraised.” This book corrects that omission. Here the Earth is celebrated as the vessel that bears us and acknowledges that we bear a great responsibility to care for her.
    There are ten chapters in this global crosscut of prayers, poems, and invocations including ones on the ecological self, a sacred place, the passion of the Earth, healing the whole, the elements, blessings and invocations, praise and thanksgiving, benediction for the animals, cycles of life, the daily round, and meditations. Here you will find selections by Walt Whitman, T. S. Eliot, Margaret Atwood, Dylan Thomas, Starhawk, Thich Nhat Hanh, Black Elk, Denise Levertov, Pablo Neruda, and many others.

  • In A World of Prayer – Spiritual Leaders, Activists, and Humanitarians Share their Favorite Praye (Orbis, 2012), editor Rosalind Bradley has chosen the perfect lead-off quotation by the Sufi master Hazrat Inayat Khan for this top-drawer collection of prayers from more than 100 spiritual leaders, activists, humanitarians and others: “Your Light is in all forms,/ Your Love in all beings./ Allow us to recognize You/ in all Your holy names and forms.”

    This multifaith anthology contains prayers of praise and thanksgiving from Christians, Buddhists, Jews, Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, and Taoists. Using these offerings, we can celebrate what the religions of the world have in common while at the same time we salute their diversity.

    It is very gratifying to see in this devotional collection an affirmation of both contemplation and social action. This emphasis comes across in the prayer choices of those who are active in social justice, human rights, peacemaking, and environmentalism.

    We were also pleased to see some of our favorite spiritual teachers and writers represented here including His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Joan Chittister, John Dear, Richard Rohr, Desmond Tutu, Huston Smith, Leonardo Boff, Ernesto Cardenal, Joanna Macy, and John Shelby Spong.