Immersed in Prayer
edited by Michael Resman
reviewed by Margaret Kelso
Over two dozen people share their thoughts and stories about their prayer lives in this collection edited by Michael Resman. Immersed in Prayer: Stories from Lives of Prayer arose from a project of the editors of the publication What Canst Thou Say, who developed sixteen queries about prayer life, which they sent to their subscribers and Quaker organizations. They ranged from “What happens when you pray?” to “What ways did you find to work around your impediments to prayer?” The sixteen queries form the structure of this book.
Resman notes that, lacking dogma, the Society of Friends has long relied on stories from personal experience to give expression to our faith. Besides building on that tradition, this book also follows a popular contemporary format of publishing one volume on a single topic from a wide range of authors. (Note, for example, the “Twelve Quakers” book series from Quaker Quest in England.)
Immersed in Prayer is readable, intimate, and inspiring. The voice and form from each contributor has not been edited into a consistent style. The authors offer their answers to the queries in essays, poems, and even lists. The backgrounds of the writers include biomedical engineering, farming, linguistics, blogging, editing, and being a nun. One woman shares a poignant account of her struggle with mental illness and her efforts to discern the voice of God from the voices of her hallucinations. Some writers respond to one query only and others respond to many.
These folks are not cloistered, nor do they live in retirement from the world. Annette Meeuwse titles her essay “Living Life with All Its Distraction.” She takes us on her daily commute one sunny winter day and compares her awareness of God to the feel of the sun on her arm. “Before I get in the car, I intentionally take my winter parka off so my skin can soak up the rays during the commute . . . Sometimes I consciously put myself into a state of active prayer, just like I chose to expose my arms to the sunlight while driving. At those times I’m praying, and I know I’m praying. . . Most of the time, however, I’m simply living life with all its distractions, demands, and delight; and that sun is still shining on my arms whether I’m aware of it or not.”
Virginia Swain shares her grief from divorce and from death of a loved one. Then she describes a personal turning point, which taught her a new definition of prayer: To be open to intervention by the Holy Spirit.
Contributors to Immersed in Prayer describe different types of prayers, including some in formal categories like “centering prayer” and “intercessory prayer,” and others in informal categories like “primal prayer” (“a wordless cry of the soul”) and “quantum prayer” (“an atom of truth, a mystery at the core of the Universe and at the core of the soul”). There are prayers with words and prayers without words. But across all this variety, these writers hold prayer at the core of their lives and weave it throughout their days – both when consciously communing with God and while doing mundane tasks.
This book also includes an essay by Charlotte Basham about her personal journey with vocal prayer, especially among non-pastoral Friends. She reports on her interviews with Marcelle Martin and Mary Lord about this topic, including Mary Lord’s account that when she is troubled, she prays, “Dear God, help me understand what I should pray for.” In an elegant analytical portion of this essay, Basham discusses prayer and prepositions: “Pray to, pray for, pray with, pray through,” which she feels can help organize thoughts and discussions about prayer. The book includes several appendices, including mechanical aspects of prayer (chanting, posture, labyrinths), contents of prayer (petition, lament, union), and brief biographies of the contributors.
This is a profound book that can be read time and again, and always bear fruit. The beauty of the writing lies in the vulnerability of the contributors, sharing their personal stories of prayer, which of course, are ultimately about their relationships with God. ~~~
Margaret Kelso is member of Humboldt Friends Meeting (PacYM).