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Exploring Prayer, and an Answer to Prayer Named Pope Francis


In “Guidelines for a Multifaith Prayer Service,” reviewed here this month, Paul McKenna writes, In this document, the word ‘prayer’ is an umbrella term that refers to and includes the broad range of spiritual practices found in the multifaith commonwealth of spirituality.” That spiritual commonwealth is huge beyond imagining. This month’s TIO, dedicated to prayer and spiritual practice from an interfaith perspective, isn’t even the tip of the iceberg, just a rich sampler. Anyone who is spiritually hungry, though, can find goldmines in this month’s survey.

Likely the oldest Jewish prayer book ever found, dated by both scholars and Carbon-14 tests to circa 840 CE – Photo courtesy Green Scholars Initiative.Two weeks ago came a story about the world’s oldest extant Jewish prayerbook, purchased by an American planning to build a Bible museum. The size of a large smartphone, the prayerbook is approximately 1200 years old, its 50 pages listing 100 Jewish blessings – an ancient worship guide. Clearly ‘prayer’ and spiritual practice, though, go back many more thousands of years, perhaps back to when we became what we call ourselves, human beings!

This month’s TIO offers a diversity of wise, sometimes provocative explorations of a variety of religious/spiritual practices, ancient and new, starting with ‘praying with words,’ privately and publicly.

The abundance of excellent interfaith spiritual resources means you’ll find more reviews this month than usual. You’ll see how we particularly benefit from Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat’s contributions; two of their three articles are republished from the thousands of reviews of spiritual resources they keep providing. Plus they wrote a special piece, “An Inclusive Approach to Prayer,” about eight particularly valuable interfaith prayerbooks published in the past decade. (TIO profiled Frederic and Mary Ann’s work at Spirituality & Practice last November.) Their latest gift to the interfaith community is One Hundred Multifaith Resources, mostly focused on spiritual matters. Each of the hundred books is named, has a one-sentence summary, and is linked to a full review. Like this:

Berling, Judith A. A Pilgrim in Chinese Culture: Negotiating Religious Diversity – Presents a stunning portrait of the ways in which Confucianism, Taoism, Buddhism, and animism are able to coexist in Chinese culture.

A confusion about dates means we will miss an article about indigenous spiritual practices, but it should appear next month.

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This pencil drawing of Pope Francis was drawn by Kathryn Kirk of Chamblee, Georgia, who submitted it to Religion News Service’s artistic competition focused on the new pope.This year will go down in religious history as the year Pope Francis took Christianity in a new direction and thereby transformed religion in the world. The only other religious leader on Earth with the kind of open-hearted reception he is receiving is His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Wait till they meet!

For interfaith, interspiritual activists, Francis is an absolute breath of fresh air. Atheist Italian journalist Eugenio Scalfari asked if the Pope hoped to convert him. “Convert you? Proselytizing is solemn nonsense. You have to meet people and listen to them.” (Here is the full interview, which one journalist called “explosive.”)

In Argentina he was known as an interfaith activist and a grassroots leader. And he imitated the saint from Assisi by reaching out to Muslims as he began his papal journey, just as St. Francis had done in similarly conflicted times.

It is impossible to predict what will happen at the Vatican and its outreach to the troubled, broken world in the next few years. But Pope Francis is clearly intent on bringing the full authority and influence of the Church to pursuing a radically inclusive, humble but engaged vision of a world beyond war and poverty. For Christians and everyone else, that is the best religious news we’ve had in many years. From all we’ve heard about him, his radical revisioning of the Church is firmly rooted in his spiritual practice, all the more reason for this month’s theme.

You can see the rest of Religion News Service's papal contest entries here