A collection of candid prayers that vacillate between faith and doubt, pleasure and pain, and virtue and vice.
Debut author Wilson-Sanford doesn’t sugarcoat her spiritual experiences in these prayers. Her “devotions for the ambivalent” reflect the transcendent power of prayer and spirituality but also the many human follies that keep people from such transcendence. For example, on the positive side, she writes, “To think prayer produces results / Now there’s an idea / Not just comfort or yearning as a last resort / But a force / … / Not mental shenanigans / … / But transforming energy.” On the other hand, though, she writes, “No prayer tonight / Just thrashing / Lashing out at my own distractions / Too busy being mad at me / … / Oh well / More to come.” Another theme is the importance of looking outside oneself. In one prayer, she writes, “There is a world out there / Try that on / Soldiers on any side who want to be home /… / Hungry, hungry people in a fat land / Try those lenses on.” Wilson-Sanford also includes short reflections on her own life at the beginning of each of 12 “months” containing 365 short prayers in total. In these, she describes her fluctuating faith during her youth, the strength that prayer brought her at various change-points in adulthood (including marriage, divorce, single parenting, and stepparenting), and finally, the spiritual progression of her later years. These stories, too, reflect ambivalence: “Under duress, I turned to God-ness. / During good spells, not so much.”
The key characteristic of this prayer collection is its authenticity. These devotions have their ups and downs, and yet despite occasional backsliding, there’s a subtle spiritual maturation as the book goes on. The prayers wouldn’t be complete without Wilson-Sanford’s autobiographical reflections, as they give important context to both her faith and inner turmoil and provide real-life examples of the ebb and flow of life, which many readers will be able to relate to. Although there are sporadic Christian references, the author emphasizes spirituality over religiosity, sometimes even criticizing traditional religion: “Modern religion has a problem / Of being bored with itself / Yadda yadda yadda / Droning hymn.” Not all the prayers are equal in quality; some are too vague to carry great meaning, and others include language that lacks the poetic mood of other verses (“Get behind me, Monkey Mind / Shut up, Words / It’s my experience, so I’ll have it”). The vast majority, however, are full of wisdom and humor, validating readers’ own difficult spiritual journeys and encouraging them to use prayer as a means to transform themselves and the world around them. Also, if the prayers are read continuously instead of sporadically, they do begin to sound redundant and lose some of their energy; hence, they are best savored and pondered individually rather than devoured all in one sitting.
These genuine prayers will inspire readers to pray despite fluctuations in one’s soul and in the world.