By Kathleen Maia Tapp. Earthword Press, 2021. 122 pages. $29.50/hardcover; $18.50/paperback; $6.99/eBook.
What if the earth, its creatures, and the universe itself were all one interflowing prayer, one continuous meeting for worship with attention to unfolding Life? How would we live our lives differently, in this time of earth crisis, if we knew we were part of this infinite prayer? Such is the vision from which poet Kathleen Maia Tapp, with her photographer husband Ken Tapp, has created this Prayer of the World to share with us, to invite us in. I have known Kathleen and Ken for the past fifteen years as a sojourner at Beloit (Wisc.) Meeting and have had the privilege of following the prayer’s evolution from a poetry and slide presentation into this book.
Over a decade ago, Tapp found herself traveling to places where she felt the earth speaking to her: the nearby Indian mounds, then forests, coastlands, the desert, the Arctic; these are places of deep health and places of deep wounding. She was always listening for the voice of the Life-giver, whom she often names “Mother” and hears speaking to her in messages of joy and suffering. Prayer of the World—which grew from poetry readings with accompanying images in Quaker worship settings—has now become a book with poems and photographs richly interspaced, which we can hold and contemplate and share with others.
How might we read such a book? How might we take in what our Life-giver, our Mother, has to tell us? This is not a book to be read for concrete answers to our world problems, nor a plan for climate activism. Rather it is a book of the heart to be read from the heart, a book premised on the insight that any deep change in the world begins with a deep change of attitude within us, through prayer. It is Mother-Life who will teach us how to pray directly and intimately in our daily experience of the Creation. The whole book is an invitation to prayer, as Mother says on page 30:
I will teach you how to pray
this book is the prayer of the world
I call to you from the voice of the wind
I flow to you on currents of air . . .
all is connected in a living breathing web
and I am the web . . .
I suggest as a first approach to Prayer of the World not so much to read it through but to let it flow through you, wash you consciously and unconsciously in its words and images and in the Life that gives them forth. Then you might return to the Prayer theme by theme, each of which is a prayer in itself. These interwoven themes include the colors of creation: “I am the world, pulsing with color . . .”; the elements: “I am water, I am change, I dream and my dreams take shape . . .”; the creatures: “I am Mother, I speak from the eagle, I speak from the turtle; Listen to them both”; from humanity in a time of crisis: “Listening is prayer; when the hard kernel that fortresses the heart begins to soften, that is prayer. . . .” Again and again, through every theme, the book speaks the refrain: “And that is prayer.”
In its poetry and images, each section, each theme of the Prayer is its own invitation to worship, for each of us individually and also for us as faith communities. The courage, inspiration, and strength we will need to meet our earthly environmental crisis must begin in the heart, in the love we feel for Creation and ourselves, in the sheer wonder and beauty of it all. Kathleen Maia Tapp’s Prayer of the World: A Rainbow Psalm evinces the words of Fyodor Dostoevsky: “In beauty is the salvation of the world.”
Ken Jacobsen, with his wife Katharine, has lived, served, and taught in Quaker schools and communities for many years. Since her passing in 2017, he seeks to share the life of the Spirit, as they did, from their poustinia, a retreat house for sojourners at their lakeside home in Wisconsin. Ken is a member of Stillwater Meeting, Ohio Yearly Meeting.