Book Review: Praying for Peace: A Selection of Prayers and Reflections
This is a book of prayers, reflections, scripture readings, and items of information put together by a collection of people (and in a couple of cases, organisations) to provide a resource for corporate worship and prayer. It is divided into seven sections, of unequal length, covering such topics as Special Days, Peace and Justice Makers, Indigenous Rights, Justice, Family Welfare, Cultural Minorities, and Creation.
It is clear that each contributor has been given the freedom to design a “liturgy” as he or she chooses. There is no set pattern to each liturgy, though in many there is an introductory prayer or statement, and concluding with prayers of intercessions, and a blessing. Some of the contributors suggest ways in which the worship space can be set up with symbols, or other visual aids; others provide suggestions and questions for discussion. All include Scripture texts – most often provided in full; sometimes only a verse or two.
Most of the contributions are tied to a particular day, even those not in the section entitled “Special days.” For example, under “Indigenous Rights,” the first contribution is “Pono, Tika and Aroha: International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, August 9,” while under “Family Welfare” we find, “Reflections for Being Older: International Day of Older Persons – October 1.” There is a discrepancy over the date in the last entry, which is for “Arbour Day.”
Many of the contributors provide some explanation of the background to the day, or useful information about a person’s life, or facts and figures to inform participants’ thinking about the topic, and to guide their prayers. As might be expected, in a book emanating from a Roman Catholic organisation, there are a number of references to papal encyclicals, and other statements. Extracts from Pope Francis’s Laudato Si: On Care for our Common Home, are cited in a couple of entries; and other statements by Francis, and also Benedict XVI, appear elsewhere. Under “Peace and Justice Makers” we find Marthe Dortel-Claudot (the founder of Pax Christi – the date give for her commemoration is August 20), and Dorothy Day (November 29) who founded the “Catholic Worker” movement. Both were remarkable women. Another entry headed, “Ahmisa: International Day of Non-Violence – October 2,” however, draws on the story of Mahatma Gandhi for inspiration.
The book includes a number of illustrations, pictures, cartoons, photos, a few inspirational quotes in sidebars, and a couple of poems. The book is rooted in Aotearoa New Zealand with entries to commemorate Waitangi Day (February 6), Matariki (June–August), the Declaration of Independence (October 28) and Parihaka Day (November 5). Also, throughout, te reo Māori is used as biddings and responses for prayers.
Nonetheless, there are also many “international days” and more widely known and observed commemorations such as “International Day for Elimination of Discrimination” (March 21), and World Refugee Day (June 20). The section, “Indigenous Rights,” focuses on some other troubled parts of the world, and suffering peoples: so we have a focus on West Papua , Palestine, Pacific Islands (focusing on climate change), and International Minority Rights Day (December 18; focusing on the Rohingya).
Obviously, some of the information provided will become dated, and peoples currently the focus of attention (the Rohingya) may fall out of currency to be replaced by others. The prayers provided for the commemoration of the situation in West Papua (contributed by Budi Hernaway, “former director of the Secretariat for Justice and Peace of the diocese of Jayapura” ), read rather more like a political statement than a prayer. This initial reaction of mine was then moderated by remembering that I have not lived with the situation under consideration; and that many of the psalms detail the petitioner’s thoughts about what God should do in the situation.
Many of the liturgies include a hymn to be sung. But there is little guidance given as to where one might find the music. A bit more editorial attention could have been given to this matter. Although, perhaps some of the hymns (or songs) are meant only to be said: a hymn based on the prayer of St. Francis, by John Foley, in 1976 (“Lord make me a means of your peace” ), does not scan easily if sung to the tune generally associated with the original. The contributor of the commemoration for “Hiroshima Day,” after providing some good information on the event, suggests “A short video clip on the Hiroshima bombing,” but no suggestions as to where to find this (presumably one is expected to surf the web for suitable clips). Here also, I thought that the provision of the reading Matthew 17:1–9 (The Transfiguration), on page 41, could have included the information that in liturgically and Lectionary-directed churches, August 6th is also the Feast of the Transfiguration.
I was puzzled by the reading chosen for the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples (August 9). Here the reading (and the reflections on it) were to do with the woman suffering from haemorrhages (Luke 8:42–48). This did not seem quite apposite to thinking about indigenous peoples, and though the contributor did relate it to the themes of pono (truth), tika (“fair, right”) and aroha (love), I think some using the liturgy would struggle to make the connection. Here and elsewhere, the contributors have chosen to render “E Ihu Karaiti” as “E Hehu Karaiti.”
These small puzzles and critical notes aside, this is a book which will provide many a group or congregation with useful material, insightful, informative, moving and challenging, with which to craft and create meaningful prayer and commemorative services, or liturgies. Even where one might want to supplement or adapt the material, this book will provide a most helpful stimulus to thoughtful and informed prayer.
Derek Tovey is the book review editor for Stimulus. This book may be purchased through Pax Christi.