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Open My Eyes and Hear My Prayer.

"I think of Koyukon elders who have spent their lifetimes studying every detail of their natural surroundings, and have combined this with knowledge passed down from generations of elders before them. The more people experience the repetitions of events in nature, the more they see in them and the more they know, but the more they realize the limitations of their understanding. I believe this is why Koyukon people are so humble and self-effacing about their knowledge. And I believe that Koyukon people's extraordinary relationship to their natural community has emerged through this careful watching of the same events in the same place, endlessly repeated over lifetimes and generations and millennia. There may be more to learn by climbing the same mountain a hundred times than by climbing a hundred different mountains" (Richard Nelson in The Island Within).

This kind of knowledge only comes with long, steady, shared observation and enduring sight. And, I think, the pattern crosses over to the realm of prayer. It is true of those who pray the psalms, the divine office, the daily prayer of the universal church, gleaned primarily from the great library of God. The familiar words, sounds, cadence and simple day-in and day-out of faithfulness teach us.

This small spiral-bound notebook of psalms, blessings, amens and illustrations could be a guidebook and a simple pamphlet of maps for the inner geography of the soul. The sisters at the Carmel of Reno have brought together the ancient texts and contemporary pen-and-line drawings to overlay trails of spirit and flesh. Like the scribe of the scriptures, they know instinctively how to take from the storerooms both the old and the new and make a creation of delight, simplicity and mystery.

The book is dedicated to barefoot contemplatives with a line from Elizabeth Barrett Browning: "Earth's crammed with Heaven and every common bush afire with God . . . but only those who see take off their shoes." In the introduction, Sr. Lauren says these are prayers for all times: times of weakness, desire, urgency, morning, darkness and broad daylight, always and absolutely to God, the father of Jesus, who never fails and always extends the invitation to intimacy.

The prayers are the psalms, song-poems of the Hebrews and a selection of amen prayers from the Roman, Byzantine, Malabar Eucharist, Maronite and Greek eucharistic liturgy, the Russian tradition, the Acts of Thomas, the book of Revelation and the breviary adapted to common practice.

The illustrations are disarmingly plain, in the Amish sense, as the highest compliment of beauty, revelation and praise. The book is full of winged creatures, webfooted, four-legged and two-: children, angels and sprites. There are pine cones and whimsy, sunsets, madonnas, leaves and tracings, Celtic edges, ravens, crows, ducks and turtles.

Perhaps they are images of the way we pray, all things pray. All words and all persons and things can put on a robe of glory because of creation and incarnation and a God that puts on a garment of words so that we can glimpse glory and learn to sing hymns and chant mantras and oft-repeated lines of blessing and gratitude.

This book allows us to pray, wrestle with God in incarnation and moments of searing divinity, to nudge glory and to eavesdrop on others' conversations with the common shared God. There is a shared collusion and an invitation to know again the call to pray, both as religious obligation, sheer human need and ecstasy that can shatter even the cross and the humdrum of life.

Prayer is about existence, about the morning star and the birds' song, the sanctuary of silence and the company of friends near or far that share our souls. This prayer book reminds us, in the words of Shlomo Carelebach, that "the whole world is praying all the time. The animals and even the leaves on the trees are praying. The way to receive light from God is through praying. The only difference is that some people pray unconsciously, some pray consciously and some pray super-consciously."
COPYRIGHT 1993 National Catholic Reporter
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Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:McKenna, Megan
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Dec 17, 1993
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