My sabbatical reading is nearing completion. I discovered a new author I really like: Skye Jethani. I read The Divine Commodity which explores spiritual practices that liberate our imaginations to live as Christ’s people in a consumer culture. What is unique about this book is his use of Van Gogh’s art and story to give shape to the book. I also read his brand new book, Futureville, that combines a hopeful eschatology with an earthy and encouraging theology of vocation.

But my post today will deal with a retired professor and author, and my favorite Old Testament scholar: Walter Brueggemann. I am reading a book of his prayers entitled, Awed to Heaven, Rooted in Earth. The preface helps me to get excited about being in the classroom again in three months.

“It is a long standing practice to open classes with prayer. The substantive intention of such prayer is to invoke God’s guidance and the teaching presence of the spirit, acknowledging that the learning now to transpire is not any ordinary learning such as the transformation of information, but rather it is an exercise in faith, obedience, and praise. That awesome task cannot be rightly done apart from God’s presence and guidance. Alongside that substantive act of submission and petition, prayer at the opening of class is a heavily symbol-laden act, for it situates knowledge in the context of faith. It articulates a proper ratio of reason to faith and quite practically asserts that learning takes place with a cloud of witnesses who have believed and trusted before the present company and who believe and trust presently alongside the immediate body of teachers and learners. Thus prayer at the beginning of class is not a mere convention–though it is that. It is an act of rightly framing the instruction of the day among a body of believers or would-be believers who are unafraid of the task of learning.”

I am not one who is particularly comfortable with uttering spontaneous public prayers, and so I often use prayer books of various kinds or prepare my prayers in advance. I bought this book for such a purpose. I felt encouraged when he said, “I have come to think that much public prayer in the church is careless and slovenly, and that what passes for spontaneity is in fact lack of preparation. Thus, I believe that public prayers must be “well said” in an artful way, not to call attention to the artistry itself but to mobilize and sustain the attention of the praying community.”