The Prayer Wheel: A Daily Guide To Renewing Your Faith With A Rediscovered Spiritual Practice, by Patton Dodd, Jana Riess, and David Van Biema
[Note: This book was provided free of charge by Net Gallery/Crown Publishing. All thoughts and opinions are my own.]
One of a handful books I have come across that have tried to resurrect practices from medieval Catholic worship for the present day , this volume represents a popularization of a practice that involves targeted prayers that are somewhat related to scripture as well as even more to the practices of the Catholicism of the Middle Ages. My feelings about this are at least mixed to adverse. Given that I am not the ideal audience to praise the resurrection of previously forgotten elements of Catholic devotions that appeal to unbiblical events like the supposed harrowing of hell and that pray to fictive beings in an unbiblical Trinity, I will attempt to give this review the fairest review possible, and thankfully this book has a lot to offer it, despite its flaws. There are at least two praiseworthy aspects of the book to me, one of which is the way that the authors are obviously serious students of religious history and have done a great deal of research into the prayer wheels of the Middle Ages and their history, and the other of which is the way that the authors appear sincere in their desire to encourage prayer and Christian meditation among readers.
This book is divided into four unequal parts that are front-loaded in terms of their contents. After a historical introduction and the usual dedications, the first part of the book looks at seven paths through the prayer wheel, which involve a bit of repetition and the combination of four elements that weave together in interesting ways, with a strong degree of concerns in personal piety as well as social justice. The second part of the book gives specific and targeted prayers for certain situations that make different combinations between these four “rings.” The third part of the book gives a discussion of different passages that can be prayed over in lectio divina like Proverbs 8 and Romans 8, to give a couple of examples. The fourth part of the book gives additional details about these four rings, which for some reason the authors felt it better to discuss at the end of the book rather than at the beginning: the seven petitions of the Lord’s Prayers, the Gifts of the Holy Spirit (from a messianic passage in Isaiah rather than the more familiar references in the New Testament), seven supposed events in the life of Christ (at least one of which, the harrowing of hell, is fictive), and the beatitudes. At least most of the material is biblical.
Ultimately, this book is aimed at believers who are at least interested in recovering older forms of worship and piety that have a strongly Catholic feel to them. If you are someone who is impressed by following a chain of religious practices that extends from Augustine through various monks and nuns of the Middle Ages to those people who today who like recovering such practices, then you will likely find this book to be deeply interesting and worthwhile. If you have a fondness for historical mysteries, such as how the prayer wheel was forgotten at all given how commonly it appears to have been represented in the monasteries of the Middle Ages, this book will also have a lot of interest to you as well. Those with a rigorous focus on the Bible an a strong degree of dislike for popish practices and a strong disinterest in the history of such practices will not likely find this book to be all that interesting. As is often the case, this is a book aimed at a certain target audience of Christian readers, and the topic of this book is sufficiently unusual that it ought to draw some interest, even by those who are not knowledgeable or interested in the phenomenon of prayer wheels in other religions, but who have a certain mystical bent to them.
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