Praying to the Spirit: a prayer book review

I’ve become quite the fan of Jack Levison. I’ve read a couple of his books, Fresh Air and Forty Days with the Holy Spirit [as I write this review, Fresh Air  and Forty Days are both only $1.99 on Amazon!].  Fresh Air is the popular level version of his scholarly tome Filled with the Spirit. Forty Days with the Holy Spirit is a daily devotional with scripture, devotions, space for reflection and prayer. I find his writing both insightful and personally, spiritually enriching. Reading Levison I’ve been blessed with a greater understanding and a deeper experience of the Spirit. His newest book, Holy Spirit I Pray is a book of fifty prayers, which invites readers to  pray to Spirit.

Holy Spirit I Pray by Jack Levison

In his introduction, Levison writes, “A book of prayers to the Holy Spirit, even a slender one is an oddity. While they probably exist, I know of no others. In a modest way this book is unprecedented” (introduction, p.5).  Nevertheless, Levison notes the long tradition of addressing the Spirit in prayer (i.e. liturgical prayers, prayers of Christian saints like Hildegaard of Bingen, or the Cappadocians). So while books of this kind are somewhat novel, praying the prayers in this volume, is joining in the chorus of Christian tradition.

The fifty prayers in this volume are composed by Levison. Each is paired with a relevant Bible passage. These are presented without comment or reflection. Instead Levison uses his introduction to unfold several  concepts to help orient readers toward prayer: the meaning of ruach (Hebrew for Spirit, wind breath), the nature of the Spirit’s filling, and the Spirit’s eagle-like-brooding (vii-xi). These are important concepts which Levison explores more in-depth elsewhere. What he says here is brief, but explicates what you need to know to fully appreciated his prayer-metaphors and the connections he makes.

Much of the substance of this book comes from Levison’s 40 Days with the Holy Spirit: Fresh Air For Everyday Forty of the poetic prayer/scripture combinations in this book originally appeared there. Here they are with minimal reformatting (centered text and perhaps one or two lines are set differently). The additional ten prayers are paired with scriptures from Deuteronomy, the Psalms, Isaiah, Haggai, Matthew, Romans, and from the Apocrypha (Judith and the Wisdom of Solomon). The scriptural passages are mostly taken from the NRSV and some from the Message: Catholic/Ecumenical Edition.

40 days with the  Holy Spirit was a 40 day devotional with prayers appended on the end of each entry. In this book these prayers appear, without comment, on the lefthand page, the Bible passage on the righthand page. The prayers are organized into five categories: (1) Prayers for Morning, (2) Prayers for Evening, (3) Discernment, (4) Prayers for Moments of Crisis, (5) Prayers for Anytime. The book is bound in bright yellow faux leather. The pages have plenty of white space around the text, making it easy to read and annotate.

This design is quite effective. As I read, I read through the prayers, and prayed them before reading the verses they were paired with. This sent me back to reading the prayer again, as I contemplated its relationship to the passage. All of this called me deeper to prayer and meditation as I joined in Levison’s play (prayer) with the text.  Devotionals often inadvertently privilege the voice of the author. This prayer book draws readers back, causing them to listen to and for the Spirit in the text.

The organization of this book mostly makes sense, but occasionally the reasoning behind why one prayer belonged to one category and not another was opaque to me. My initial assumption was prayers of commitment, inspiration, and facing responsibilities belonged to the morning. Prayers of recollection, rest and letting go belonged to the night. This is generally true, but the dividing line between these prayers is no so easy. There was inspiration in evening, letting go during daylight hours. There is a fluidity to other categories as well. My advice is pray morning and evening prayers (or discernment prayers, etc.) whenever you need them.  Helpfully, there is a index of first lines and an index of Scriptures in the back of the book for easy access to any of these prayers you find meaningful.

It is perhaps difficult to whet the appetite for prayer by simply describing  a books contents. Let me share a prayer from this volume that is particularly meaningful to me at this moment of life:

Holy Spirit

Closer than my breathing

Nearer than my heartbeat

When I tuck myself away from fear of life

And hide from threats real or imagined

Consider my lost call,  my vanishing purpose

And fill me deep

Like my dear friend’s kiss.

Face to face with Jesus I’ll receive you

Heart to heart with Jesus I’ll breath you in.

Amen.  (30)

[This above prayer is paired with the passage in John 20:19-23 where the resurrected Jesus breathes the Spirit into the disciples, likely with a mouth-to-mouth kiss].

This would make a nice gift book, or a simple prayer book for personal use. I recommend it praying these prayers. Some of them speak directly to intimacy, other prayers speak of justice, inspiration, mission, empowerment, crisis,etc. I give this five stars.

Note: I received this book from Paraclete Press in exchange for my honest review.





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