From time to time I’m asked for recommendations for daily devotionals. I often wince because recommending devotionals is like buying art for other people: it’s very personal, hard to get just right, and potentially awkward when you get it wrong.
And yet a friend recently recommended to me a devotional that has spoken to me that I humbly submit to you.
It’s called “A Book of Uncommon Prayer: 100 Celebrations of the Miracle & Muddle of the Ordinary,” written by Brian Doyle, an author who has helped get me through this season of pandemic as much as anyone. Each reflection comes in the form of a short prayer giving thanks to God for various overlooked people or moments or experiences of delight or wonder that are worthy of our reflection.
Doyle himself was a devout Catholic (he died far too soon just a few years ago), and the prayers are often reverent in their irreverence. For instance, one early entry is entitled, “Prayer in Celebration of Brief Things, for Example, Church Services.” Or another, “Prayer for the Church I Love and Have Always Loved but Which Drives Me Insane with Its Fussy Fidgety Prim Tin-Eared Thirst for Control and Rules and Power and Money Rather Than the One Simple Thing the Founder Insisted On.”
“Prayer for Cashiers and Checkout-Counter Folks”
“Prayer in Thanks for (Small) Pains”
“Prayer for Opossums, You Poor Ugly Disdained Perfect Creatures”
“Prayer for the Boys I Used to Coach When They Were Little Unlike Now”
“Prayer for Proofreaders”
“Prayer of Gratitude for Small Things Done Very Well That You Only Notice When You Sit Still & Pay Attention”
You get the idea.
His approach is so winsome I have even found myself applying the form to the surprise moments of wonder in my own life.
“Prayer in Thanks for the Quiet Shared with My Son As We Both Read Our Books Together Before Bed”
“Prayer in Gratitude for Good Scrambled Eggs”
“Prayer for Home Haircuts”
“Prayer for Long Runs Before Dawn With a Friend”
“Prayer for Puddles and Good Boots With Which to Step in Them”
“Attention is the beginning of devotion,” says the poet Mary Oliver. And drawing our attention to that which is worthy of devotion in the everyday moments of our lives should be the aim of any “devotional.” Any act of worship. Any religion.
To call the church a people committed to cultivating this kind of attention is about as good a definition as any. And few things inspire us more than hearing the uncommon prayers of others. In other words, making the sharing of these delights more common.