Book: Awed to Heaven, Rooted to Earth: Prayers of Walter Brueggemann

Walter Brueggeman. Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress Press, 2003. 173 pp. $12.00.

Anyone at all familiar with Walter Brueggemann’s work will note his characteristic offbeat style already in the title of this book (awed to heaven). Brueggemann, an Old Testament theologian, is here the theologian at prayer. This collection of prayers brings together his prayers (no more than a page each, often less) from such diverse occasions as opening a class to leading a worship service.

What I liked most about these prayers was the playfulness and daring quality of the language, that slight tilt of phrase that opens up new meaning. As Brueggemann himself acknowledges, that style of prayer flirts with calling attention to itself, but “prayer is characteristically a dangerous act, and dangerous rhetoric is required to match the intent of the act.” Praying to God as the “text-giver,” he calls on God to

Re-text us away from our shallow loves into your overwhelming gracefulness.
Re-text us away from our thin angers into your truth-telling freedom.
Re-text us away from our lean hopes into your tidal promises.

Not exactly dangerous—but it gives a taste of Brueggemann’s rhetoric.

While I don’t see myself using these prayers as written in a worship service, I will use them as thought starters to prime the pump of my own imagination in preparing prayer for worship, which is exactly what Brueggemann recommends in his preface.

Here is a prayer for illumination I could use right out of the book:

Healing, sovereign God, overmatch our resistant ears with your transforming speech. Penetrate our jadedness and fatigue. Touch our yearnings by your words. Through your out-loudness, draw us closer to you. We are ready to listen. Amen.

One caveat: Even though he is an Old Testament scholar, there is too little of Christ here for Christian prayer.

Leonard J. Vander Zee is pastor of South Bend (Ind.) Christian Reformed Church.