Friday, May 27, 2011

Review: "If Darwin Prayed"

Process theology and open theism both describe a life where God invites us on a holy adventure through our evolving, interdependent world. Instead of controlling everything/everyone through coercion, God beckons people through persuasive love. Instead of predetermining an end/plan for the world, God works with the changing world to bring forth God's vision of greater love, justice, and mutuality. Instead of hiding away in some heaven light-years away, God's abiding presence is with us - and all creation - along the journey of life every single day. Instead of acting once upon a time in the Bible, God continues to act in each new moment of life. The attributes of God based on process theology and open theism could go on and on. The point is this: it's pretty cool theology. One of the reasons that it's so cool is because it combines an understanding of the world that is evolving, an understanding of God as a Being that brings forth creativity in the evolutionary process, and a deep spirituality that invites us to experience God's abiding presence within all of life.

Sounds good. No problem, right? Well...not quite. The problem is that most hymns, liturgies, devotionals, etc. still use traditional language and imagery for God. It's rare to find practical resources for a spirituality that is based on process/open theology. In fact, I have heard a few colleagues say, "I like process theology better than any other theology, but I just don't know how to use it in a church." And that is a valid concern. It's hard to make the transition - especially without many useful resources.  Another problem is that many people simply can't go to church if they hear nothing but an ancient worldview reflected. They want to connect their spirituality with the worldview they live in right now. In short, many people want an evolutionary spirituality.

Bruce Sanguin's new book "If Darwin Prayed" is filled with prayers that exude, enliven, and embody an evolutionary spirituality. Imagine if someone combined Scripture, process theology, open theism, and quantum mechanics into something so practical as a book of prayers. That describes this book. At a time when such resources are so rare, this book is like a cold drink on a hot day. It's refreshing in ways that have to be felt to be truly appreciated. So here is a taste:
Come, friends of Spirit
let us gather in gratitude,
opening to the chaos of life;
the mistakes,
the messes,
and the muddles.
But let us also open
to the order of things -
the magnificent
and the marvelous pattern of it all -
and to beauty that is beyond our minds
to be comprehended
but not to be apprehended by.
Let us calmly celebrate
that we are held
by an order that emerges from the chaos,
and by a chaos that loosens suffocating structures,
and let us learn to trust
that this play of Order and Chaos
is Spirit
dancing its way
into a sanctified future.
Now that is a prayer that Darwin - and modern people - can pray with heart and mind! You don't have to separate science from religion. You don't have to separate sacred from secular. You don't have to separate your "church brain" from your "real brain." Instead, you can combine all of these aspects of your life into a holistic spirituality that nourishes the heart, body, soul, and mind. While each prayer focuses on a different Scripture and theme, all of the prayers help develop and deepen an evolutionary spirituality.

The prayers are organized by lectionary themes (e.g. Christmas), liturgical elements (e.g. Eucharist), and special occasions (e.g. Mother's Day). One of the surprise gifts of this book is the theological reflection that Sanguin offers on each of these sections. Not only do you get a lot of amazing prayers in each section, but you also get some brief-yet-stimulating reflection on the evolutionary spirituality of the major elements of the Church's life.

"If Darwin Prayed" is for anyone who wants to explore and experience a deeper spirituality in our continually evolving world. Because of the poetic way these prayers are written, they could be used for anything from personal devotions to congregational worship to seminary training. Hopefully this wonderful book is the beginning of an "evolutionary Pentecost" (xxvi)!

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