Becoming the Answer to Our Prayers

September 4, 2009

activism / books / spirituality

Becoming the Answer To Our Prayers: Prayer For Ordinary Radicals is a recent book from Shane Claiborne and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, both of whom are part of new monasticism. Shane is part of The Simple Way in Philadelphia, and Jonathan is part of Rutba House in Durham, North Carolina. Both are intricately involved in activism and in spirituality, and the book is, in essence about how to join these things in a holistic way.

I think this is an incredibly important book, because the entire focus is on that mixture. The other books that Shane has written, for example, do mention this, and the fact that it is so common for one to be missing among people who emphasize the other, but this one does stand on its own because it seeks to show how spirituality and activism can, and must, go together.

The book looks deeply at various biblical prayers, telling of experiences in joining them with activism, or what they have to say to justice. It spends a lot of time with the Lord’s Prayer, which I think is incredibly fitting. Clearly, it is a radical prayer in any sense, but especially in light of justice for the poor, oppressed, and marginalized it is utterly shaking, from its utter disregard for nationalism in its call for the kingdom of God to its remembrance of Jubilee economics. Just before reading the book, I had read an intense post on the 24-7 Prayer blog along these lines, and together these things have taken me to entirely new ways of looking at the way Jesus taught his people to pray.

The book continues and spends time with several other prayers, looking at the community Jesus desires for his people, the ways in which we should be sent into the world, and the ways in which we can experience the Spirit’s power in seeking for justice.

This last part, based on Paul’s prayer that we would know the Spirit’s power, is a gleam of hope for me that people who seek to live in the nonviolence of Jesus can reclaim the real, tangible power of the Spirit. It effortlessly moves from the desert fathers of the fourth century, seeking to become fire1; to the historic black church, desperately crying out to God in spiritual songs and working to seek freedom; to the Pentecostal church, entering into the presence of Jesus and arising from poor and marginalized folks; and the miracles that have followed the people of Jesus when they don’t already have everything they need.

I want to strongly recommend this book. I still think there is much to be said about these issues, including the links I mention between nonviolence and charismatic experience, for example, but this is such a wonderful start that it outpaced my expectations, which were already high.

  1. A story is recounted in which a young monk asks of an older monk what he can do after having done everything he knows to know God. The older monk, with the tips of his fingers flaming like ten candles, responds, “If you will, you can become all flame.” In light of this, I cannot encourage you enough to listen to this utterly unique song from mewithoutYou, The King Beetle on a Coconut Estate, and ponder these words. []