Timothy WRIGHT, No Peace Without Prayer: Encouraging Muslims and Christians to Pray Together a Benedictine Approach. Collegeville, Minnesota: Liturgical Press, 2013. pp. 338. $29.95. ISBN 978-0-7546-6770-4.
Richard ROHR, Dancing Standing Still: Healing the World from a Place of Prayer, New York: Paulist Press, 2014. pp. 105.$14.95. ISBN 978-0-8091-4867-7
Reviewed by Patricia SHARBAUGH, St. Vincent College, Latrobe, PA 15650
Opening our eyes to the way violence, rivalry, and competition shapes contemporary culture and leads billions of our brothers and sisters around the world to lead lives marked by suffering, death, and a struggle for survival can lead us toward cynicism and gloom. Acknowledging that the great religious traditions of Islam and Christianity not only fail to offer healing or an alternative approach to divisions, but also participate in and contribute to the violence and discord in the world only deepens our sense of despair. Into this despair, Abbot Timothy Wright offers what he calls a small seed, an idea. This idea is that the way out of the abyss of violence, the way to peace is through nurturing the small seed of dialogue between Muslims and Christians with the hope that this small seed might grow toward greater respect. In No Peace Without Prayer: Encouraging Muslims and Christian to Pray Together, a Benedictine Approach, Wright investigates the similarities between the spiritual traditions of Islam and Christianity, particularly as expressed in the Rule of Benedict, while presenting a path toward dialogue.
The book is divided into seven parts with each part shaped by a question about dialogue. Part one of the book explores the path toward dialogue and begins with Wright’s own journey. Wright became a Benedictine monk in 1962. He spent twenty-five years teaching and served as the Abbot of Ampleforth Abbey from 1997-2005. During this time Wright organized a series of dialogues between Catholic monks and theologians and Shi’a Muslims from Iran. These dialogues grew out of his friendship with Mohammad Ali Shomali, an Iranian Theologian. Wright presently serves as a spiritual director at the Beda College in Rome and the delegate of the Abbot Primate of the Benedictine Confederation for Monastic-Muslim Relations. Wright’s journey provides a template for dialogue because while remaining deeply rooted in his own Christian Benedictine tradition, he has studied Islam, explored the meaning of monastic communities located in Moslem countries, participated in dialogue with Moslems, and developed rich friendships with Moslems deeply committed to their own tradition.
The following six parts of the book develop a path toward dialogue. Wright begins by acknowledging the need to heal negative memories and work toward correcting misinterpretations and distorted versions that each faith holds of the other. Maintaining that true dialogue arises between people deeply committed to their own traditions, Wright explores spiritual practices in Christianity and Islam. He points to the lives of mystics in each tradition in order to illustrate that these practices unfold parallel paths leading to a deep union with the love of God. Highlighting the dialogue between Thomas Merton and Abdul Aziz, Wright concludes that when dialogue is carried out with respect rather than competition, it strengthens faith.
Attention to spiritual practices is followed by twelve chapters discussing Muslim and Christian approaches to the revelation of God in the Bible and the Qur’an. The focus of these chapters is on key figures that are presented in both texts. Wright proposes that by listening together to the way these key figures are presented in their respective traditions, Muslims and Christians will deepen their own understanding and create a shared memory that might become the ground for further dialogue.
Wright moves from an investigation of revelation to contemporary experiences of dialogue. He gives an account of the experience of Benedictine monks at the Trappist Community of Tibhirine and discusses the inspiration these monks provide for further dialogue. The book concludes with a twelve point summary of the book that details the path to dialogue and outlines a way forward.
While at times the book relies too heavily on an outline format with a preference for lists of summary points, the strength of this book lies in the lived experience of the Author. His own experience of dialogue and deep prayer life informs his discussion on every page. This book reminds us of the importance of spiritual practices because as we deepen our experience of the love of God, we become increasingly open to listen to and be touched by those in other faith traditions who carry with them a similar experience of the love of God. The book provides a path to dialogue and inspires hope for a better relationship between Muslims and Christians that might become a foundation for building peace in the world.
Richard Rohr, Dancing Standing Still: Healing the World from a Place of Prayer, New York: Paulist Press, 2014. pp. 105.$14.95. ISBN 978-0-8091-4867-7
Richard Rohr’s book Dancing Standing Still: Healing the World from a Place of Prayer is a new edition of his earlier book A Lever and a Place to Stand. This book explores the integrative dance of action and contemplation as a great art form. Drawing upon the wisdom of the Greek philosopher Archimedes who writes, “Give me a lever and a place to stand and I will move the world,” Rohr describes the steadiness of spiritual practice, a life of contemplative prayer, as a fixed place to stand and then insists that Christians must use the stability provided by contemplative prayer to engage and transform the world. He writes, “God offers us quiet, contemplative eyes, but God also calls us to prophetic and critical involvement in the pain and sufferings of the world – both at the same time (7).” He points out that the vision of Francis of Assisi and Thomas Merton continues to impact people in the world because through their lives of contemplative prayer they were able to articulate a vision of the world that was critical of the consumer culture but also in love with the world. Their vision sprang from their practice of contemplative prayer and engagement in the world. Rohr argues that contemplative awareness is not the property of people in monasteries but is accessible to all. Furthermore, true contemplative awareness engages the world and crosses boundaries. A practice of contemplation that is open to engagement with the world is the necessary practice for the transformative power of the gospel.
Dancing Standing Still and No Peace without Prayer express similar messages. The world is full of discord, violence, and materialism and religions sometimes contribute to these problems instead of healing and transforming them. Both books express the hope that a steady practice of contemplative prayer will open the space for people to receive the experience of God’s love and through this experience be transformed to see and engage the world in a new and transformative way.