A Book of Uncommon Prayer
100 Celebrations of the Miracle & Muddle of the Ordinary
by Brian Doyle
A celebration is exactly what this book is. What a delight to be introduced to Brian Doyle by means of these one hundred quintessentially quirky, but genuinely beautiful, short prayers. The joke in the book’s title suggests that A Book of Uncommon Prayer is funny, and it often is, sometimes hilariously so. And yet these micro-meditations are truly prayers and many include expressions of pain and confusion, or supplication, or thanks which most people will identify with if they are awake and paying attention to life at all.
Doyle has a wonderful ability to show in his prayers that the miraculous and the mundane are intertwined and inseparable. He invites us to be in awe of everything that God has given us, and I mean everything. For instance, he has written “A Prayer in Thanks for Decent Shoes,” “Prayer for Cashiers and Check-out Counter Folks,” and “Prayer in Thanks for the Little Flying Dinosaurs We Call Dragonflies.” These are some of the glorious gifts that Doyle wants us to see and celebrate in life.
Here is some pertinent information about Brian Doyle taken from A Book of Uncommon Prayer:
“Brian Doyle is the editor of Portland Magazine at the University of Portland in Oregon.”
“He is the author of several books of essays, stories, ‘proems,’ nonfiction (notably The Wet Engine, about the “muddles and musics of the heart”), and fiction (notably the adventuresome novels Mink River and The Plover).
Doyle’s work has appeared in Atlantic Monthly, Harper’s Orion, the American Scholar, the Sun, Georgia Review, and in newspapers and magazines around the world…
Among various honors for his work is the Christopher Medal, a Catholic Book Award, the University of Notre Dame’s Griffin Award in literature, three Pushcart Prizes, the John Burroughs Award for Nature Essays, the Foreword Reviews Novel of the Year Award, and –puzzling him to this day– the Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters.”
While reading A Book of Uncommon Prayer and being bowled-over, stunned, and made ridiculously happy by the stories that seem to burst into song on each page, I also kept track of the many names that Boyle gave to God in his prayers. There were approximately 25 names fashioned. The most common one used to address God was “You,” but depending on the prayer, Boyle might use “The Breath,” “The Imagination,” “The Generosity.” Other names were “The Dreamer,” “Filmmaker,” “Designer,” “Engineer.” My very favorite, though, is “The Bus Driver.”
Doyle’s stream of consciousness “proems” — a word for which there doesn’t seem to be an actual definition, but which I take to be a melding of the words prayers and poems — are surprising, witty, and brief. That makes them easy and delicious to insert into one’s devotional reading or prayer time. Their brevity also allows for them to be included here. What follows is a selection of two prayers from A Book of Uncommon Prayer.
Prayer for Hospital Chaplains
Of any creed and religion and tradition and spiritual practice whatsoever, for they are the ones who knock gently on the doors of patients who are dazed and afraid and in pain, and stick their heads in and ask gently if they can be of service, and many times endure the lash of rude and vulgar response, and have to accept that as the price of doing business; and they are the ones who sometimes walk softly into the room and lay hands on hands or heads and whisper prayers and ask for blessings and healings and restored strength if at all possible, and those are hard things to ask for when the being in the bed is so patiently broken and bruised and frightened and helpless no matter how hard you pray or how huge your empathetic heart; and they are the ones who then knock on the next door and the next, day after day, week after week, sometimes for years like a dear friend of mine who became a priest after a while just so he could bring sacraments to those bedsides. They are a great sweet patient diligent amazing tribe, chaplains; and this morning, in the chapel of the hospital with its huge windows and small simple unadorned crucifix, I pray for them with all my heart. And so: amen.
Quiet Prayer for Friends Whose Teenage Child Just Stormed Out of the House
Cursing and spitting and smashing a plate along the way, for effect. Slapped the mother twice as hard as possible and would have slapped the father too except the other child stepped in and hustled the first child out in the yard where there was a tumult and then the first child ran away down the street and the second child came back in the house pale and drawn and furious and afraid. No one said anything for a few minutes. O God help them tonight and tomorrow and next year. Ease the savage stab of the insults and screaming and slapping and fear and rage and pain. Heal them sometime someway somewhere with Your mercy. We have so many of us been in that kitchen with rage and blood and violence in the air. Yes we have. We don’t talk about this much except to you in the dark reaches of the night. O God help them come through this somehow. I don’t see how. But You do, don’t You? Don’t You? I am not asking for you to make everything better; I am only asking You to lead them to the strength and humility to reach for each other again somehow sometime and to try to build rickety bridges. I know how You work; the best in us is another word for You. May they somehow open the buried treasures of the best of themselves, and reach for each. I cannot see how they can do that, after what just happened; but You do. Lean toward them today? Please? And so: amen.
Doyle’s love for God, family, church and the natural world are all captured in A Book of Uncommon Prayer, as are his more worldly concerns and fears. There is something in the book for everyone – whether it is to rejoice over a hot shower, give thanks for all birds, “herons in particular”, or to pray deeply for those who are facing death. I offer a grateful prayer for Brian Doyle and this amazing little book, that as small as it is, there are 100 celebratory, mini, jewel-like meditations contained within it. And so: amen.
“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” I Thessalonians 5:16-18. This scripture came to mind as I was reading Doyle’s book. What do you think of Doyle’s “stream of consciousness” style of prayer?
Prayer is integral to a disciple’s life, and Brian Doyle certainly seems to put it at the center of his. Do you write out prayers as Doyle does? Do you keep a prayer journal? What rituals or reminders do you use in your prayer life?