Yesterday I finished Prayerfulness. My copy of the book came from Amazon.com; I get books from them as part of their reviewer program, so I owed them a review on it. This is what I wrote:
Robert J. Wicks writes in the tradition of Joseph Schmidt’s classic, Praying Our Experiences: An Invitation to Open Our Lives to God — in other words, Prayerfulness is a thoughtful, grounded, and warm invitation to expand our concept of what prayer is and the role it plays in the ordinary moments of our lives. The subtitle of the book is descriptive of its message: awaken to life’s fullness! Prayerfulness is all about being alert, awake, mindful; paying attention to the stirrings of our inner lives in dialogue with the ever-changing circumstances of the world in which we live. The book really is a series of meditative reflections on topics such as honoring life’s fragility, facing sadness, and befriending our challenging emotions such as anger. Like many thoughtful and well-grounded spiritual books, at times this book is rather dry, although the author works to keep things interesting through storytelling. Perhaps the single most useful part of the book is the “Spiritual Mindfulness Questionnaire” — a series of thirty thought-provoking questions designed not so much as a diagnostic tool but rather as a portal through which we can move to find greater self-awareness in terms of both the gifts and the challenges of our spiritual lives. Wick’s reflections on the uses of each of these questions is particularly helpful. I recommend this book to anyone who is committed to responding to the Apostle Paul’s challenge to “Pray without ceasing” (I Thessalonians 5:17), in a healthy, mature, sustainable and truly mindful way.
Earlier this month I wrote a post in which I compared this book to John Crowder’s Miracles Workers, Reformers & The New Mystics, arguing that while Prayerfulness is the more grounded and truly wise of the two books, The New Mystics (with its colorful descriptions of miracle workers, both past and present) is wilder, edgier, and even just plain more fun.
Perhaps its telling that, even though I found Prayerfulness to be “at times… rather dry” and “less fun” than The New Mystics, this is the book I’ve finished first. Perhaps “tame” versus “wildness” is not all that compelling of a competition after all. I know that the main reason this question bugs me is because of the implication it has for my own writing. I want my work to be as mature and well-grounded as that of Robert J. Wicks, but simultaneously as exciting, in-your-face, and fun to read as the writing of John Crowder. Sigh. I suppose it’s dangerous to try to make music that is simultaneously soothing and danceable (although maybe some of the better chillout music comes close). If I’m not careful, I run the risk of my work failing both in terms of its readability and its wisdom. So, at the end of the day all I can do is try to be as true to myself, and my vision, and my faith, and my sense of where God is leading my writing, as best I can. And hopefully it will be wise and it will be wild. Not just wildness tempered by wisdom and/or wisdom tempered by wildness. But rather, something entirely new — even while it is fully grounded in tradition.
Okay, if I try to squeeze one more paradox into my creative aspirations I think my head will explode. Go buy Prayerfulness and give it to someone you love this holiday season (even if that someone is yourself). It really is a lovely book.