How I Pray: People of Different Religions Share with Us That Most Sacred and Intimate Act of Faith

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9780345383310: How I Pray: People of Different Religions Share with Us That Most Sacred and Intimate Act of Faith
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Religion writer Jim Castelli set out to answer these profound questions by talking with twenty-six spiritual leaders and practitioners representing the wide spectrum of faith in America today. How I Pray gathers these remarkable conversations into a thought-provoking, personal, and deeply meaningful volume.

In How I Pray Christians and Jews, Muslims and Buddhists, Native Americans and Mormons, and members of many other faiths describe the intimate and unique ways in which they pray—and what prayer means to them. Catholic priest and novelist Andrew M. Greeley reveals that he prays to a womanly God because it enhances the intimacy of his spiritual encounters. Pollster George Gallup, Jr., considers his prayer life a dynamic two-way conversation with God. Lakota Sioux medicine man High Star shares the fascinating prayer rituals that his people have practiced for centuries.

Infused with honesty and passion, warmth, and a deep reverence for life's spirituality, How I Pray is sure to be a source of illumination and delight for readers of all religious backgrounds, with insights from the following spiritual leaders:

Philip C. Bom
Sidney Callahan
Joan Brown Campbell
Sandra Goodwin Clopine
Richard J. Foster
George Gallup, Jr.
Ann Garvin
Rajshri Gopal
Billy Graham
Andrew M. Greeley
High Star
Lawrence Kushner
Norman Lear
John Lewis
Martin E. Marty
Carole Mu’min
Ronald Y. Nakasone
Marlene Payne
Jane Redmont
Mary Frances Robles
Eve Rudin
Robert Schuller
Dan Seals
Eleana Silk
Rembert G. Weakland, O.S.B.
Lisa Wood

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Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

PRAYING AND PRAY-ERS
 
 
 
Everyone prays. For some people prayer requires several hours a day and involves intricate rituals. For others prayer takes the shape of an occasional “Oh, no!” at bad news and “Thank God!” at good news.
 
Yet whatever the length, language, complexity, or faith of our prayers, they all ultimately have the same purpose: to reach outside of ourselves and touch, perhaps to move, a power greater than ourselves. We pray for mercy, for guidance, for forgiveness, for peace—both global and internal. Every time we pray, we acknowledge that there are things in this life that are outside of our control. Often we pray to bring about change in ourselves as well. Every time we pray, we try to become something more than we are.
 
Just as we strive for “excellence” in our professional lives, we strive for excellence, for improvement, for a way to come closer to that power or spirit in our prayer lives. But prayer is intensely personal and so we don’t learn about prayer from dry treatises or lectures; we learn about it best from our own experience of it and from the stories of other people whose prayer is rooted in their own unique lives.
 
The purpose of this book is quite simple. I wanted to talk to a number of Americans from a wide variety of religious and professional backgrounds about their prayer lives—to ask them to fill in the blanks about “How I Pray.” At one level their stories are fascinating in themselves, presenting a broad, multicultural portrait of American religion. Each story is an end in itself, telling us something about the role that prayer plays in people’s lives, and how unique that role is in every instance. But these stories also provide an opportunity to discover themes and patterns in the way people actually pray, a chance to learn something about the generic nature of prayer.
 
The hard part was choosing the people to interview. I wanted not only a certain number of people who would be household names but also a good number of “real people,” who were not necessarily big names outside their own households but who cared deeply about prayer. I wanted as broad a representation of religious groups as possible. I wanted, as much as possible, to interview people who were at least somewhat comfortable talking about their spiritual lives. I wanted religious leaders and laypeople. I wanted a group of people that reflected demographic diversity—by gender, age, race, ethnicity, region. At times I felt like Bill Clinton trying to assemble an administration that “looks like America”—only he had three thousand political appointees to work with while I had to pick fewer than thirty people to keep this book’s size manageable.
 
My choices eventually reflected a combination of detailed planning and occasional whimsy. I picked some people because I knew pretty much what they would say, and I chose others because I had no idea what they would say.
 
After I conducted each interview, I transcribed it and edited it into a narrative so that each person would speak directly to the reader; I tried to keep these narratives as conversational as possible. That wasn’t easy, particularly with the academics. But I thought it was important to make these stories as personal as possible, and our conversation is often much more personal than our writing.
 
The responsibility for the final interview choices is mine, and here’s how I made them:
 
Phil Bom teaches at Pat Robertson’s Regent University. I met Phil, a Presbyterian and an Evangelical, at a conference on religion and politics about two weeks before the 1992 election. I was struck by the fact that when Phil asked those present to pray for the presidential candidates, he did so in such a way that I couldn’t tell whom he would vote for. That was refreshing, as was his visible enthusiasm about prayer.
 
Sidney Callahan is a popular and prolific Catholic writer who frequently writes about issues involving family and values. I was glad to interview her as I’ve enjoyed her writings for more than twenty years.
 
Joan Campbell is general secretary of the National Council of Churches. I had interviewed her before and been struck by her candor, so she made a perfect representative of the Mainline Protestant churches.
 
I wanted to interview someone from the Pentecostal tradition, so I called the Assemblies of God, the largest Pentecostal church in the United States; they suggested Sandra Clopine, head of the church’s education department. Sandra, an ordained minister, is also head of the National Association of Evangelicals’ women’s division.
 
After two prominent Evangelicals canceled out at the last minute, Tim Jones at Christianity Today suggested that I interview Richard Foster. When I stumbled across an interview with Foster in U.S. Catholic just a few hours later, I didn’t need any further convincing. Foster, a Quaker, has worked on prayer with Christians from many traditions.
 
I worked with George Gallup, Jr., writing two books and five years’ worth of columns, and I knew of his involvement in prayer groups. That was a perspective I wanted, so I asked George to take part. George, an Episcopalian with strong Evangelical overtones, has also done some unique research on the impact of prayer.
 
I asked Church Women United to recommend several prominent church women and chose their president, Ann Garvin, an active community volunteer and a member of the African Methodist Episcopal Church.
 
John Borelli, who runs the U.S. Catholic Conference office dealing with religions outside of Christianity and Judaism, recommended Rajshri Gopal as a Hindu who could successfully articulate her beliefs.
 
Billy Graham was an obvious choice for this book. He’s cutting back his schedule because of age and illness, but Mary Becker of his staff provided me with quotes taken from his speeches and public interviews. I worked them into a narrative, and Graham himself made some changes and additions.
 
Andrew Greeley—priest, sociologist, and novelist—was a natural subject. He prays and also studies people who do.
 
High Star is a Lakota Sioux “singer,” or medicine man. Sami Toinetta, a Lakota who works for the National Council of Churches, referred me to him, as he is her spiritual adviser.
 
Two longtime friends, Rabbi Jim Rudin, of the American Jewish Committee, and Rabbi David Saperstein, of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, both said that if I wanted to talk to someone who really knew Jewish prayer, I should talk to Rabbi Larry Kushner in Boston. So I did.
 
I’ve known Norman Lear for more than a decade; for part of that time I worked with him at People for the American Way. While many people view Norman as completely secular in outlook, I knew him as a man who had a deeply spiritual nature that was not tied to any one religious tradition. He was another natural to include, proof that those with no religious affiliation still have a spiritual dimension.
 
I’ve long admired Congressman John Lewis of Georgia, a veteran civil rights leader, and was struck by a recent comment by Georgia governor Zell Miller, who said that many people today regard Lewis as a saint.
 
Martin Marty, arguably the most quoted person in American religion, was another natural choice. A church historian, Lutheran minister, and all-around expert on religion, Martin has never given a bad interview; the one he gave me was exceptional.
 
Carol Mu’min, a black Muslim active in interfaith activities, came at the recommendation of Clark Lobenstine, director of the Interfaith Conference of Greater Washington.
 
Finding a Buddhist to interview for this book was difficult because I frequently ran into the objection “Buddhists don’t pray.” They may not pray, but they do prayerlike things in a spiritual way. When Ronald Nakasone’s name turned up twice—recommended by Kathy Nolan, herself a Buddhist; and by the Institute for Buddhist Studies at Berkeley, recommended by Joan Connell—I took it as a sign and got an excellent interview from Ron.
 
I first interviewed Marlene Payne, a Mormon and a psychiatrist, twelve years ago during the controversy over Sonia Johnson, a feminist Mormon. Marlene helped me overcome some preconceptions about Mormons; she also helped me understand that both feminists and Mormon women were under great pressure to “have it all,” even if they differed about what the “all” means. I thought Marlene would be thoughtful on prayer, and I was right.
 
I worked on a project with Jane Redmont, a Catholic writer, several years ago and thought of her as someone with a strong social-justice and feminist perspective.
 
I asked Ron Cruz, who heads the U.S. Catholic Conference office for Hispanic Affairs, to recommend a grassroots Hispanic Catholic, and he urged me to talk to Mary Frances Robles, the daughter of a close family friend.
 
When I told Jim Rudin that I wanted to talk to a young Jewish person about prayer, he suggested that I talk with his daughter, Eve; once again I took his advice.
 
Many people I spoke with urged me to interview Robert Schuller, and I was glad to do so. His comments were short, but pithy. Schuller, a member of the Dutch Reformed Church, prides himself on being a Mainline Protestant television preacher.
 
Brad Pokorny, of the Baha’i International office in New York, put me in touch with Dan Seals; a fan of Dan’s country and pop music, I was delighted to interview him.
 

From Booklist:

This is a collection of short narratives reconstructed by the editor from 26 structured interviews about prayer. It is readily accessible to a general audience, and, given the widespread interest in spirituality, it is destined to be a popular book. The reader may tend to be skeptical about any book that begins with the flat assertion that "everyone prays," but Castelli and those he interviews define prayer so broadly that the assertion is almost indisputable. This means that the book is not so much an account of a specific activity identified as "prayer" as a reflection on the spiritual practices of a varied (though not entirely random or representative) group of Americans. The sample is predominantly Christian, with a smattering of other traditions, and as the only Native American respondent points out, the interviews are driven by "a real Western question." But there are valuable insights here, and readers are likely to find browsing through the narratives an interesting (and sometimes rewarding) experience. Steve Schroeder

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