Praying with Every Heart: Orienting Our Lives to Wholeness of the World

Rev. Derek Elmi-Buursma reviews Cláudio Carvalhaes' new book.

Cláudio Carvalhaes
Cascade Books, 290 pages | Published August 26, 2021

To begin, we could simply ask, what does it mean to “pray with every heart?”

Cláudio Carvalhaes responds with a book on prayer that is a liturgical resource as well as the very act of leitourgia or “work for the people” (in Greek). Praying with Every Heart offers Carvalhaes’ interpretation of “ora et labora” (“pray and work” from the Benedictine tradition) as a new approach to exploring faith and spirituality. The opening and closing chapters read as an inspired invitation to think of prayer differently: as an “exercise in becoming”; a “work of the archives”; a “cracking open the present”; a mode of desire, dreaming, and dancing into the future that comes after.

As a “liturgical resource,” the book offers fruitful frameworks and methodologies to approach topics such as: praying “from the ends of the world,” liturgical renewal and interreligious praying-with one another. For the local church pastor, seminary student or Spirit-led community leader, these methodologies helpfully present thoughtful questions to ask, accessible places to begin, and prayers to be “prayed with” as-is or adapted. Carvalhaes offers entire liturgies and devotional guides responding to the relevant realities of anti-Black violence, the COVID-19 pandemic and climate catastrophe.

Yet, Praying with Every Heart exists as more than a resource or guide; the book possesses a heartbeat. The pages are animated with Carvalhaes’ stories, memories, questions, fear and fervent prayers, embodying ora et labora. The book is Carvalhaes’ own prayer and an illustration of his thesis to pray with. And it demonstrates a wild and wonderful inclusion of friends, artists, students, elders, teachers, animals and ecosystems that creates a chorus of prayers and invites the reader in.

Praying with Every Heart includes fragments of colonized identity and decolonized possibility – of Indigenous knowledge and unsettled ecosystems. The fragments have sharp edges. An unsuspecting reader may feel cut by the unapologetic condemnation of White superiority, patriarchy, capitalism and occupation. Or the cuts may come from openness to the plurality of a polyphonic prayer life that invites the knowledge of Indigenous, ancestral, Black peoples and the earth.

Carvalhaes offers each reader the eucharistic grace of coming to the table as we are and taking what we need. As he writes, “If the prayer materials offered here are too much for you at this time, set them aside. Use only what you think you can use for your nest, for what is coming to you now.” And it is this sublime generosity that transformed my copy of Praying with Every Heart into its own creative composition of boxes, brackets, exclamation points, question marks, LOLs and other marginal notes. Whatever Praying With Every Heart becomes for you, may it be an invitation to feel, to think, to question, to laugh, to work … and to pray.

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