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Monday, July 20, 2015

"Pray Like a Gourmet" (David Brazzeal)

TITLE: Pray Like a Gourmet: Creative Ways to Feed Your Soul (Active Prayer)
AUTHOR: David Brazzeal
PUBLISHER: Brewster, MA: Paraclete Press, 2015, (192 pages).

How we eat our physical meals can be quite an accurate reflection of how we feed our souls. Are we constantly rushing through meals in order to get back to our work? Do we go for the most familiar restaurant joints and select the usual cheaper options? Maybe we are used to drive-through convenience that opts for the standard fare? What if we can inject some creativity into our eating or ordering? In this very well-illustrated and creative book on how to pray, author David Brazzeal, together with Dutch illustrator Willemijn de Groot have put together "creative ways to feed your soul." Written in three parts, we catch a glimpse of what it takes to set up a kitchen for prayer; which is followed by basic recipes for prayer; and finally the praying.

Brazzel whets our appetite by enticing us to go beyond normal ordinary fare such as fast-food, cheap joints, and predictable meals. He show us how to acquire a taste by hungering and thirsting after the really good stuff, and parallels them to seeking after God. Preparing to pray includes praise, just like the way St Francis of Assisi's had prayed. From Richard Foster, he learns about imagination in prayer. From Evelyn Underhill, he learns that spirituality and creativity are both on the same side of the brain. From Peter Lord, he learns that our creativity is most beautiful when it is in sync with the Holy Spirit. He shows us how to creatively choose a meal, just like seeing the Bible as the first book, the middle, and the last. This parallels the regular meal set of appetizer, entree, and dessert. He is particularly critical of fast food that never gives us time to cultivate relationships; of junk food that offers little substance to our self-centered praying; and processed food that limits ourselves to devotions and prayers of other people. On forms of prayer, he reminds us of the popular ACTS acronym before challenging us toward Observation; Intercession; Meditation; Contemplation; Blessing; Lamenting; and Joining. Gradually, we involve the gourmet of choices to let our prayers involve body, heart, mind, and soul.

Part Two is the main dish where we learn about the 11 ways to pray. We praise by telling the greatness of God. We thank God for what He had done. We confess our sins as we deal with life's realities. We bless the world with goodness as we pray blessings from God upon the land we live. We observe the world, especially nature, and to simply see without analyzing or watch without the urge to solve something. We lament the reality of the world, especially the sad things happening around us. We also lament on things that are beyond our control. We learn to meditate and to contemplate, which may not be easily understood or differentiated. For meditation, it is about learning to reflect silently with the Spirit of God leading us. Brazzeal shares with us that "Meditation is stimulated by something external: a text, a quote, a sound, an image, a thought, or even a repetitive action, while Contemplation deals with the purely internal: silence, stillness, void, release, and the lack of emphasis on reasoning and rational thought."

He leaves the asking quite late in the process, which is a curious decision because prayers have often been associated with asking for things in the first place. He admits that the chapter on asking is the "hardest chapter" because as he grows in his journey and gourmet of prayer, he finds the asking less as less desirable, once he experiences the other element of prayer. He settles on a type of asking that is "less self-absorbed and more God-focussed." This is a good lesson for us too. This is quickly followed by interceding which is about advocating for the needs of others. At one look, it seems like the asking and the interceding are the same thing, the former being more other-centered and the latter being praying for others. What's the difference? The author does not offer any clear explanation but as I read the chapters, it appears to me that "asking" to be more God-centered and other-concerned is a conscious decision to put ourselves less important; while the "interceding" is to put God and others as more important. The difference is subtle. In joining, we pray with God's mission in mind, to be reminded that our concerns are merely a speck in the larger world of God.

Part Three of the book show us how to spread everywhere the joy of prayer. When showering, learn to see the steam as a chance to thank God for the presence of the Spirit; to experience the waters on our bodies as a way to reminisce the baptism of the Spirit; the scrubbing of the skin as cleansing; and to the wrapping of the body as being embraced by the Spirit; and so on. Even in swimming, we can learn to pray. Gradually, we come back to the dining atmosphere where we can bless all who gathered with thanksgiving; picnic moments; to the worship time in Church. Finally, there is the clearing of the table which we can also pray.

So What?

We eat at least two to three meals daily. We are exhorted to pray frequently too. One of the most regular times of prayer is the time just before we tuck in the next meal. Christians often pause for a moment; say a prayer of thanks; and then eat away. For some, these are the only times they pray. If there is a way to bring this regularity of eating and to inculcate a more prayerful life, why not?  In this book, we are exhorted not only to pray frequently but also to pray widely. Praying like a gourmet is essentially praying lavishly, unselfishly, and generously. Full of ideas that are simple and doable, after reading this book, it will not be surprising that readers would want to simply pause and put the prayers directly into practice. This is how powerful the book is.

Written with practice in mind, the book is concise in its theory and extensive in its applications. I love the colours used in the book which reflects a desire to bring colour into our praying. While the book is brief, it covers a lot of ground as far as learning how to pray is concerned. With many tips, pointers, and to the point challenges, readers will be happy to learn that there are more ways to pray. Hopefully, this book will help readers catch a glimpse at why the prayer warriors and spiritual leaders of the past are able to pray so constantly, so consistently, and so passionately. If there is a modern equivalent of Brother Lawrence's "Practice of the Presence of God," this book will be very up close and personal.

Rating: 4.5 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of Paraclete Press and SpeakEasy in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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