By Beverly Lanzetta. Blue Sapphire Books, 2021. 100 pages. $12/paperback; $7.99/eBook.
A Feast of Prayers: Liturgy to Holy Mystery by Beverly Lanzetta is less a book to read than a book to pray. The book consists of vigils, prayers for the days of the week, prayers for days of rest and other occasions, and 40 prayers meant to be prayed one per day over a 40-day period. Some Friends might initially ask why they would want a book of prayers. After all, early Friends rebelled against the Church of England’s practices that included prepared sermons and prayers, and the Book of Common Prayer. But Friends have often felt kinship with aspects of the contemplative and mystical traditions in Christianity, and this book will appeal to many, if not all, Friends.
As the subtitle to the book suggests, these prayers are more like a liturgy than prepared requests for God’s help. The author notes in the preface:
When the liturgy is spoken, alone or in community, the prayers establish a spirit of peace, enclosing participants in a sacred ritual. Following a prayer cycle during designated times of the day, opens us to an embodied prayer-speaking that binds our hearts to the Divine Presence in our midst.
Prayer for the author is an invocation of a state of mind and a space that lifts us out of the ordinary into the sacred or, much like the late Thich Nhat Hanh taught, makes ordinary activities like washing the dishes or feeding the dog sacred and prayerful activities.
Though the prayers certainly draw from the monastic tradition, they go well beyond the patriarchal Christian tradition. In a few places, the prayers call on God, but far more often, we read “Mother of Compassion,” “O Great Mother,” or simply “Holy One” or “Great Spirit.” Some call on “Radiant Earth and Spirits of Nature.” The feminine divine is also echoed in the Holy Sophia, divine wisdom, which played a greater role in early Christianity than in the modern era. Nowhere in the book is God invoked as father. Though one might question why we cannot experience the Divine as masculine if we can experience it as feminine, such theological questions recede as the prayers focus the reader on the “Most Holy and Unnameable Presence” rather than on theoretical questions.
As I prayed these prayers, I found myself having a hard time distinguishing them from poems. That is not a criticism but rather another reason to read, recite, or pray them. As I prayed my way through the week at more or less set times, I found these prayers/poems to be enriching my experience of First-day worship and repeatedly re-orienting my attention through the week to their major themes: the Holy, compassion, wisdom, mercy, forgiveness, silence, wonder, and intimacy. This is a book for anyone who wants to read not about the contemplative tradition nor about prayer and meditation but instead who wants to pray, contemplate, or meditate. Amen.
Erik Cleven is a member of Souhegan Preparative Meeting in Milton, N.H. He is an associate professor in the Department of Politics at Saint Anselm College in Goffstown, N.H.