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This review is from: Awed to Heaven, Rooted in Earth: Prayers of Walter Brueggemann (Hardcover)
I first encountered Walter Brueggemann as a scholar of the Hebrew scriptures/Old Testament through his monumental 'Theology of the Old Testament'. When I started seminary a few years after purchasing that volume, there was a class taught based on that book, so I got to know more about Brueggemann's scholarship in some detail. However, that was not all I and the other students learned in that class - we were fortunate enough to have a professor who knows Walter Brueggemann through both his scholarship and personally - some of the spirit that came across in that class is not readily accessible in scholarly tomes, but is very present in books such as this one, 'Awed to Heaven, Rooted in Earth.'
Brueggemann spent over 40 years as a teacher, first at Eden Seminary and then at Columbia Seminary, and it was his standard practice to begin each class with prayer (those untutored to the ways of seminary might be surprised to learn that this is not always a standard practice - my personal experience is that it occurs about 50% of the time). Brueggemann's prayers are both timely and timeless - they tap into the eternal elements of divine-human communication, but also express care and concern for current situation in which students, faculty, staff and the world find themselves. According to the editors, his prayers are 'subtle, surprising and daring, gentle and dread-filled [and] echo the poetic speech of the psalms and of the prophets.' As for Brueggemann himself, he states that to put such a collection together in print needs some justification, and he gives two - that much of prayer is 'careless and slovenly, and that what passes for spontaneity is in fact lack of preparation.' He also sees this collection as 'an act of gratitude', toward students, colleagues, and toward God.
These prayers read like poems - indeed, like the psalms, they can be multi-tasking as poems and prayers, and often could stand as hymn texts. They have rhythm and grace that is palpable. They have theological soundness and internal consistency with biblical themes even when such themes hold us in tension between divergent ideas. These prayers call upon themselves to 'move off the page', just as Brueggemann calls upon God (and our actions based upon God) to move off the page of scripture and into action in the world. Nothing subtle here! But indeed surprising and daring.
When I first discovered this book, I was in awe. It has quickly become a favourite, and just as quickly established itself as a book to which I return again and again, for inspiration and for a sense of what language I can use with integrity before God. Few books have made such an immediate impact on me as this one has. Prayer is often seen as something safe, something soothing, something secure - Brueggemann calls upon us as pray-ers to recognise that prayer can be a dangerous act. 'It is an awesome matter to voice one's life before God, and our lives should therefore be awesomely uttered.'
Amen and amen.