Paul Watermulder and Martha Watermulder, editors
Xlibris Press. 258 pages
Reviewed by Jack Haberer
This review took much longer than I anticipated it would, for “Pastoral Prayers for the People of God” is a ponderous volume – one that does not lend itself to quick reading, no less skimming. I say this not to criticize but to commend. These prayers pull the reader into deep waters of devotion, calling us not merely to read but to pray along with a thoughtful pastor.
People pray in a multitude of ways. To converse with God is to bare one’s soul on countless topics in myriad forms, tones, moods and styles. To do so before an audience – expecting a collective amen of agreement – wends its way on the edge of a crevasse. Tender pastoral praying can fall into sappy sentimentalism. Theological pastoral praying can trip into pomposity. Prophetic pastoral praying often offends those we pray alongside. Esoteric praying waxes, well, esoteric.
David Watermulder’s prayers test the edges of each of these pitfalls, but they don’t fall into them.
The pitfall most tested is the theological endeavor. Each of these prayers offers its respective congregation a teaching moment, its central topic being the attributes of God. “Great God Almighty, our Source and our Supply, the One from whom all things come: we gather together today in Your church to thank You.”
Watermulder also presses the tenderness of God-conversations, alluding somewhat repetitively (but justifiably so) to the deer panting for water. “Instinctively our spirits blend with your Spirit, naturally our hearts open to Your love, longingly our souls crave Your forgiving understanding. In deep, profound thankfulness, we turn to You, our Father.”
The pastor presses his fellow prayers to dig deeply into their own souls, allowing the light of Christ to shine into the dark closets within: “Quicken our conscience, we pray, that we may not go through life bogged down in the ruts of our self-dug prejudice, the mire of our personal whim, the slipperiness of our self-exalted opinion. Ever expose us to Christ. Make us sensitive to His beckoning call. Disturb us and haunt us until we respond to His summons, whatever it may be.”
Watermulder’s pastoral courage challenges the political status quo – but does so with unimpeachable meta-partisanship: “Bless our president and our leaders, that they may be enabled to share in a new day of purpose and peace, with all the nations of the world. Give us a sense of responsibility in this world. Even as we pray for our country, we pray for our enemies, and we pray that they and we may somehow discover our common humanity again and learn how to live in this world.”
Collected and arranged around holy days and seasons of the church year, any pastor would do well to keep this volume on her desk to look for topics and turns of phrases as she prepares her bowed interrogatives of the times of their lives.
Buyer beware. Some terms of address posit God in terms more typical of a generation or two behind us. Edit on the fly if you will, but appreciate Watermulder’s context and his heart. And be open to the kinds of insights more often found in deep memories than in new discoveries.
Jack Haberer is pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Allentown in Pennsylvania.