Why are so few people praying for our cities?
Wherever you live in the world, there’s a core community that matters to you—but many popular spiritual writers these days don’t seem to care.
Does that seem harsh? Well, check it out for yourself. Take a trip to your local bookstore and browse through the prayer-religion-inspiration sections. What you’ll find are lots of books focused on personal spiritual satisfaction—and tons of books on getting away on inspiring retreats. What you won’t find are many books on the challenge that’s core to Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism—our responsibility to our communities … especially to the cities where billions of people live around the world.
We’ve celebrated some terrific writers who preach this theme. Check out our Conversation With Shane Claiborne whose new book is titled with Gandhi’s challenge to “become the answer to our prayers.”
This week, we’ve got more great news on prayer for cities.
TODAY, we’re recommending two wonderfully balanced new prayer books.
THEN, Wednesday and Thursday, we will publish the dramatic story of an urban prophet who courageously explored the power of prayer through riot, fire and earthquake. Don’t miss it!
Spiritual Sage No. 1: Henri Nouwen
Recommending his new “A Book of Hours”
Actually, this isn’t entirely a work by the beloved Catholic writer Henri Nouwen, who died in 1996. To create this helpful new volume, Seabury Books had spiritual writer Robert Waldron draw upon many of Nouwen’s earlier published works to create a sturdy handbook for regular prayer.
As a longtime follower of Nouwen’s work—and knowing that his favorite themes involved community and service to others—I’m very pleased to find those lessons preserved in this new collection. To give you a feel for how these ideas provocatively leap out of Nouwen’s writings, here are two brief passages from the new Seabury “Book of Hours.”
First, Nouwen reminds us that our faiths are not calling us exclusively toward joy. In fact, as Nouwen puts it, quite often we find:
“Joys are hidden in sorrows! I know this from my own times of depression. I know it from living with people with mental handicaps. I know it from looking into the eyes of patients, and from being with the poorest of the poor. We keep forgetting this truth and become overwhelmed by our own darkness. We easily lose sight of our joys and speak of our sorrow as the only reality there is.”
How does this relate to prayer for cities? Nouwen teaches that we discover the true power of faith only in revealing our own powerlessness and honestly approaching the reality of the world. In this core lesson, he’s a first cousin to Buddhist sages, of course. Here’s one sample from “Book of Hours”:
“What keeps us from opening ourselves to the reality of the world? Could it be that we cannot accept our powerlessness and are only willing to see those wounds that we can heal? Could it be that we do not want to give up our illusion that we are masters over our world and, therefore, create our own Disneyland where we can make ourselves believe that all events of life are safely under control?”
Spiritual Sage No. 2: Bishop Frank T. Griswold
Recommending his new: “Praying Our Days”
Morehouse Publishing, a sister imprint to Seabury Books, gives us this very creative collection of prayers assembled by the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, Frank Griswold. And a special thanks to the staff at Morehouse for including the ribbon in the book’s spine! Regular readers of prayer books tend to destroy our books with turned-down pages and other bookmarks—and this handy ribbon helps.
Griswold encourages urban ministry. This is an ancient spiritual calling, he writes. A prayer from St. Augustine of Hippo from the Book of Common Prayer seems to voice that concern to us down through the centuries:
KEEP WATCH, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or weep this night, and give your angels charge over those who sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous; and all for your love’s sake. Amen.
Then, Griswold includes a wondrous daily cycle of prayer that, over a week’s time, lifts up all sorts of people who are crucial in the fabric of our communities. Like most of the passages in Griswold’s collection, this daily litany is drawn from a traditional source—in this case the Church of England Book of Daily Prayer.
I have to admit that I especially appreciate his choice for the Monday prayer, so will include that here as a sample of what you’ll find in this cycle:
ON MONDAY, we pray for …
Those engaged in media and the arts
Those engaged in farming and fishing
Those engaged in commerce and industry
Those engaged in finance and service
Those whose work is dangerous, stressful, or unrewarding
All who are unemployed or under-employed.
So, check out these two new offerings from spiritual sages—but also let us know how you pray for our core communities in your own life. We’d like to share that with others.