Wonder, Fear, and Longing
So in the book I'm simply trying to help people find the prayer that lives in their anger, in their yearning, in experiences of wonder and gratitude. I do this by telling stories, by sharing quotes from other Christians about these human experiences, and then offering simple forms of prayers that help people release these prayers.
What makes this book different from other prayer books?
Well, first this book isn't about prayer practices. It starts with human experience and finds a variety of ways to help you find God within that experience. I wrote this book for my kids -- Noah, Joseph, and Grace. Noah is my oldest and he's just coming into his teen years. I thought to myself, what could I give my kids as they grow up that would help them stay close to God no matter what they're experiencing in their life?
So I thought of the major experiences we have as human beings -- moments of wonder, moments of fear, longing, times of passion, times of suffering, times when we feel tired and weary. I thought, "What could I give my children that would help them see God in these natural human experiences?" Then I tried to make it simple. I wrote a story, something I've seen or experienced. I went through my journals and wrote down all the words of wisdom I've collected from other Christians, scripture passages that I've found helpful, creative forms of prayer that might give them a new awareness of God, the world, their own fragile heart.
What do you believe happens in prayer?
Prayer is when we enter into our relationship with God. Prayer is always an invitation to become aware of our real selves, held, connected, empowered -- loved by the real God. When we become aware of our connection to this "Source" of compassion, we become more able to accept who we are, better able to accept others as they are, and more empowered to resist and transform the principalities and powers that destroy and denigrate life.
In all of your books there is this constant theme of "slow down," "step back from technology," "go out into nature," "pay attention to what you're feeling." Do you see the current culture as harmful to the spiritual life?
Well, doesn't everyone? Not just harmful to the spiritual life, but harmful to human life, animal life, plant life, all life. We live in an age where we are aware that life is fragile. I live in Oregon, a couple of hours from the coast, within a network of rivers and streams. Our rivers and streams are slowly dying; the salmon were almost completely wiped out in the Klamath River during the Bush years.
There are large acres of ocean off the coast that are "dead zones," no oxygen, no creature or plant life. Just large swaths of dead sea. We've all seen the photos of polar bears drowning. We all know we are living a life that is unsustainable, that is expensive to the planet, to animals, to the poor around the world. We know that the American way of life is hell-bent on destruction -- we know that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are causing enormous death and suffering for people in the Middle East. And we know that these wars exist to sustain American, Western, forms of life. There is enormous grief and guilt and anxiety about all of this; it lies in each of us like a heavy tar within our bodies. But we live in an age of distraction; we live, as T.S. Eliot once wrote, "distracted from our distractions by our distractions." It takes real, intentional effort just to pay attention to what is permanent, what matters, what we're feeling.
Deborah Arca joined the Patheos team in 2009, after more than ten years of managing programs for the Program in Christian Spirituality at the San Francisco Theological Seminary. Deborah has also been a youth minister, a director of music/theatre programs for children, and a music minister.