In the introduction to A World of Prayer, Rosalind Bradley writes the following about the purpose of her book: “Our current global situation with its ongoing tensions, wars, and conflicts has convinced me of the importance of finding ways to transcend religious divides and foster greater understanding and mutual respect between the world’s religions” (xxiv). Bradley’s motivation is commendable, and I do think this publication has the potential of fostering greater understanding among people of different religious backgrounds. Rather than approaching faith traditions from a detached, observational perspective, A World of Prayer ushers readers into the more intimate realm of devotional experience, thereby encouraging readers to understand, as it were, from within—that is, to approach the transcendent from the perspective of the various religions’ actual practitioners.
What remains uncertain to me is how valuable this collection of prayers can serve as a devotional resource. While the diversity of prayers constitutes a manifest strength as far as promoting greater understanding, it represents somewhat of a drawback in terms of the book’s usefulness as a prayer tool. While most of us desire a deeper appreciation for the positive elements in religions outside of our own, the nature of spiritual experience normally demands a certain coherency in religious outlook that grows out of a single-minded commitment to a specific faith tradition. Because religious practice is not a proverbial cap that one puts on according to one’s mood, but, instead, an entire way of life, to experience true growth in a particular tradition requires totally immersing oneself in that faith—in its rhythms, liturgical practices, and unique moral obligations. And, as with any facet of life, commitment to one path necessarily requires turning away from others, even while sometimes acknowledging that those other paths present certain benefits of their own. In attempting to utilize A World of Prayer as a devotional resource, some readers might feel pulled in different directions, or perhaps simply that they lack any direction at all.
On a different note, the diversity of contributors is quite impressive. The collection can truly be described as global, and Bradley does a noteworthy job of striking a healthy balance between female and male contributors. Some of the more notable contributors include Desmond Tutu, Elizabeth May, the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, the XIV Dalai Lama, Hans Küng, Nelson Mandela, and Joan Chittister—though Bradley has also tapped a number of figures who are, in her words, “quiet achievers” (xxv). Each contributor includes not only a prayer, but also a brief comment about why the prayer is meaningful to them. Furthermore, for each prayer Bradley provides an introductory paragraph with biographical information about the contributor of the prayer. In spite of my skepticism about the usefulness of this book for devotional purposes, I can see its value in other regards. Clearly, a great deal of time and care was put into the compilation of the work, and not only in terms of content: the book is aesthetically attractive and seems to have sturdy binding. Those who are interested in questions of religious pluralism and also spiritual seekers would do well to add it to their personal library.