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City: 01803 Burlington, Massachusetts
This review first appeared on my blog, Jacob's Café.
This post is part of my series on prayer books. I received a complimentary review copy of this book without a requirement or expectation of a positive review.
Common Prayer is a the result of a collaborative effort of Shane Claiborne, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, and Enuma Okoro. All three (from my understanding) have an emphasis on missional living, intentional community, and the new monasticism. This instantly brings the book into a more modern context, particularly as the authors includes notes integrated into the book of marks of the new monasticism.
Like many people who have interacted in the emerging conversation, the authors are re-introducing people (especially younger people) to the beauty and power of liturgy. The introduction is long, but relevant, as most readers will likely be minimally familiar with liturgy and its meaning. This introduction itself is one of the most meaningful parts of the book, reminding the reader of the unity of the worldwide Christian Church. As the authors note, the power of liturgy helps keep all churches on the same calendar, which allows all churches who choose to do so to read the same Scripture and meditate together on the same issues (hence the title common prayer). It's like a National Day of Prayer for the whole world year-round. This alone reminds us we are not alone and need to be mindful of our global brothers and sisters.
Another element of liturgy that they note is that the book is not "so much an 'inspirational' text as it is a workout guide" (p. 20). Oftentimes we don't feel the Spirit moving and don't have much motivation to pray and worship. Liturgy helps us stay in the motion and habit of remembering God. Granted, plenty of people go through the motions without any intent, so remembering why you're doing what you're doing is important. That's why "workout guide" is a great analogy. I usually ride my bicycle to work. There's many days I don't feel like doing it, but once I get going, I usually enjoy it. And the days I choose to drive, I usually miss my bike. I think the same can be true of liturgy, as long as we remember the purpose of them (connecting with God, not going through the motions).
The prayers are definitely intended to be read in a group, socially. There are directions as to how to say the prayers as a call-and-response (if you've never experienced this in a positive way, trust me, it can be awesome). That does not preclude their use individually. A nice element is that there is a songbook at the back with actual sheet music (not just chords--I hate that :) ) for a variety of, as the authors say, various traditions' "greatest hits." Occasionally throughout the liturgical prayers, there is a notation to include a specific song to enhance the experience.
The prayers and songs are a nice compilation of Christian traditions and time periods, reminding me a bit of the Mosaic Bible. It feels modern enough to be relevant, but ancient enough to help feel a connection to the long history of Christianity.
The version I received to review was a book editorial version dated 9/10/10, so there may have been some differences. It was also a thick stack of 8.5x11 pieces of paper bound together, which took away from some of the devotional feel that the final published version seems to have (I've seen it in a bookstore--it has a nice textured cover and seems rather light for its size). It still seems a bit bulky to be used as an individual prayer guide, and again, the goal really is a more communal experience.
They have also created a companion website, with a liturgical calendar to which you can subscribe and daily prayers automatically updated. This element seems more inclined to the individual user. It would be nice if it was set up as an RSS feed to automatically get the daily prayers from the website.
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