Wednesday, August 13, 2014

When a Pagan Prays (book review)

 (click link to go to the book on Amazon)

Anyone who has read my blog knows that I tend to be a bit rambling, so the fact that “When a Pagan Prays” had it's own share of rambling didn't throw me off. In a lot of ways, it was like following my own train of thought, watching it circle around through different points, coming back to things it felt were important, and then moving on to the next concept.

I was fascinated by the fact it was written by a Druid non-theist. While it is not a path I follow (if you aren't aware, I am more of a Norse heavy Pagan, and definitely a polytheist), I really enjoyed the questioning take on such a topic as prayer. I think that by questioning the most basic concept of prayer (who are we praying to?) it really allowed the book to take the examination of prayer to a much deeper level.

One of the things that really stood out and that I enjoyed a lot were the little examples of prayers that were used throughout the book. They weren't given as things the reader could try, but rather as things the author had prayed to show the standpoint of the part of the book they were included in. I found they gave a lot of character and really made for a sense of connection between reader and author.

I also appreciated the fact that many tough questions were asked, and while they weren't always answered, that was okay too. I think there is a tendency in books to try to come off as an absolute authority, and by leaving some questions unanswered (or with multiple answers given), it let the reader really consider their own answers instead of just being railroaded into the authors opinion.

For example, the question of why prayers don't get answered was brought up several times. I think this is probably one of the most common questions used to argue against prayer (or divinity). And I think it is one of those questions that can't be fully answered in this life. But that doesn't mean it shouldn't be asked, and thought about, and debated.

I also really enjoyed the non-theist standpoint of being open that the author took. While it is not my own view, I have always loved thinking about how other people think about things, and for this topic, it worked really well for me. Even as someone who both believes in, prays to and works with specific deities, I have had and sometimes still do have my own questions and doubts. The author's continual questioning made my own questions feel at home.

One of the great things the author does in the book is to give suggestions for how to handle doubts and questions. If she saw something about prayer that didn't work for her, she didn't just avoid it, she looked further into it to try to figure out how it could be made better. One of the first things she struggled with, when starting her own journey into a prayer practice, was who to pray to, and she talked us through the process she went through, not only about how to handle prayer if you are not comfortable talking directly to divinity, but also how she felt about the possibility that something might answer her prayers.

There is plenty of practical ideas about how to approach prayer as well. From the more basic considerations such as where and when to pray, to more complex ideas such as how to formulate the payers we make.

Prayer is examined not only in regards to private practice, but also group work. I have seen public prayer become an argument because people don't always think about how other people might respond to their prayers. Prayer is such a personal thing, especially in a Pagan framework where a gathering might consist of people of very diverse paths. The suggestions given for how to approach group prayer are very well thought out and great guidelines for anyone being asked to pray in a group setting.

While the book is definitely focused on prayer, because prayer is so entwined with concepts of worship, divinity and magic, I found myself thinking about other topics as well as I read. I took notes, and have a lot of things to think about after reading this book.

I would definitely recommend it for anyone wanting to explore the topic of prayer. While the authors Druidry definitely features in the tone and subject of the matter, as a non-Druid, I had no problem following along and benefiting from the topic. I wouldn't call it a how to book, but more like a guidebook to help you create your own path to prayer.

The author ended the book with a very personal story, and I really felt connected to them by the end of the book. Some of my fears and thoughts on prayer were put into the words of the book and I felt a little less isolated for having read it. Prayer is a topic that is often problematic for Pagan's, something not always well talked about or examined, and I am very grateful to have been given the opportunity to read this book. There is a quite that I particularly liked that I would like to end with:

“Now I can sit with the grass, and the dirt, and the small things and feel as much like I belong as they do.”

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