Edited by Gary D. Schmidt and Elizabeth Stickney
William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, Mich. 198 pages
As readers, we benefit from writers. Many enrich our days with communications which form the fabrics of our lives. We tend to take for granted what we receive; not reflecting on the people and processes that create and craft what informs and shapes us and fires our imaginations.
Here are prayers for writers. Those who write may cast their contributions with an eye and ear to the transcendent. This collection provides prayers for the different stages of a writer’s work: from “inspiration” to “offering” the work to God, to completion and sending the piece into the world. This lifts the writer’s labors to the level of ministry and reminds us readers — and we who write, ourselves — that much more is going on with what is written than we realize, or even “what meets the eye.”
Gary Schmidt is an English professor at Calvin College, and an author. His wife Elizabeth Stickney is the author of “The Loving Arms of God.” Together they have assembled an anthology of prayers drawn from a remarkable array of sources. We hear the words of St. Augustine and Jane Austen; John Donne and John Dryden; John Henry Newman and Reinhold Niebuhr; and Christina Rossetti and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. These span the book’s eight chapters and the stages of work through which writers go. The editors provide a couple of pages of reflections on each stage at the beginning of the chapters. Helpfully, they also supply descriptive identifications for all whose prayers are offered here.
Though the emphasis in the book may be toward writers of fiction, these prayers speak to all who write in any way — including pastors. We all encounter the world, study the world, begin to write, expand our vision, attend to the Word, find joy in the work, petition God, and offer the work to God — the phases explored here. So this book is a welcome companion to keep at one’s elbow as the writing we do — in whatever genre — takes shape. The prayers focus on what is most important for us at every step along the way.
Who wouldn’t be blessed by Winifred Holtby’s short prayer: “God give me work/Till my life shall end/And life/Till my work is done”? Or Samuel Johnson’s sober: “Enable me, by Thy Holy Spirit, so to shun sloth and negligence, that every day I may discharge part of the task which Thou has allotted me”?
Writing is hard work. It is disciplined work. Yet it belongs to the human spirit to seek creativity. Writing is an expression of this yearning. It involves our whole selves as the words flow. The editors write: “The writer, the sub-creator, shows delight — creating what, it seems, he or she must create, in just the way it must be created. What else could there be but delight, when craft, gift, skill, learning, intent, beauty, and meaning buckle?”
To this end, the prayers in this book are “prayers seeking to understand what it is to make our words ‘acceptable.’” Prayer is no substitute for the hard work of writing. But this hard work is now blessed with this splendid resource for those who write and those who pray.
DONALD K. McKIM of Germantown, Tenn., is executive editor of Westminster John Knox Press.