Michael Plekon is a professor in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology in Religion and Culture at Baruch College of the City University of New York. He is also an ordained priest in the Orthodox Church in America. He is the author of Hidden Holiness (2009), where he called for a reframing of saints from seeing them as celebrities to knowing them as ordinary people being holy in a variety of interesting ways, and Living Icons: Persons of Faith in the Eastern Church (2004), which examined the lives and writings of visionaries in this tradition who have been pioneers of the spiritual practices of hospitality and openness.
In this substantive and enlightening work, Plekon turns to poets, saints, writers, theologians, and activists who demonstrate in word and deed that "there is no time of day, no activity, no place that cannot be prayer." God is present in all of our lived experiences and resides in family, neighbors, colleagues, and strangers. Or as Paula D'Arcy aptly puts it, "God comes to us disguised as our life." That is why we miss the meaning of prayer when we view it as a retreat, an unusual activity, or a periodic obligation.
Plekon sets his agenda early in the book when he states that he wants to follow individuals beyond sacred texts and liturgies to other places, encounters, and experiences in which they see, hear, and communicate with God, the world, and other people. Prayer thus comes alive in nature, personal relationships, social and political activism, dialogue, work, creativity, illness, pain, suffering, and doubt. Praying always and everywhere opens up many doors for us to think about this devotional practice.
In eleven chapters, Plekon covers:
- The Prayer of Theologians and Others (Sarah Coakley, Rowan Williams, Heather Havrilesky, and Sara Miles)
- The Prayer of a Hermit (Thomas Merton)
- The Prayer of Poets (Mary Oliver, Christian Wiman, and Mary Karr)
- The Prayer of Darkness (Barbara Brown Taylor)
- The Prayer of Care for Those In Need (Dorothy Day and Maria Skobtsova)
- The Prayer of One's Life (Paul Evdokimov and Seraphim of Sarov)
- The Prayer of Contemplation and Action (Richard Rohr)
Plekon sets aside three additional chapters where he explores prayer in his own lived experiences of remembering, community, and teaching:
- The Prayer of Pirogi Making and Other Food Adventures
- The Prayer of the Classroom
- The Prayer of One's Life
We are delighted with the ecumenical sweep of these practitioners of prayer and the rich array of quotations from their writings. Plekon succeeds in his goal of making "a contribution to the understanding of contemporary faith in action, twenty-first century visions of spiritual growth and finding God." Bravo!