Preparing for the High Holidays and spending a greater than average time in synagogue services, Mordecai Schreiber’s latest book Why People Pray seemed a fitting seasonal reading choice.
Part travelogue, part research, part theological musings, Schreiber draws on his 40+ years as a rabbi to present his ideas about what draws people to prayer, what people actually pray for, and the tools they use in this process. With its short chapters and ecumenical approach, Schreiber has written a remarkably accessible book on a topic that can be an emotional minefield. Read individually, each chapter could ideally be used as a meditative practice in conjunction with a personal prayer ritual.
Schreiber’s writing sometimes veers off towards the sermonic, and it is not difficult to imagine the material as having been reconstituted from that used during his years in the pulpit. His confident tone in expressing theological positions regarding God’s role in prayer, as well as the persona he adopts as a sort of prayer expert, will either resonate strongly with readers or be slightly off-putting to a reader who would prefer a softer sell. The especially valuable contribution that Schreiber makes with this book is the inclusion of prayers of multiple faiths. Liturgical and historical material from around the world offers readers a more expansive view of prayer than that which is most often available in a single volume. Selections from different streams of Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism and the Baha’i faith are thoughtfully considered, giving readers the opportunity to appreciate some of humanity’s most moving sacred poetry. Schreiber’s discussion on the meaning of communal prayer was also notably inspiring.
This book would be a particularly good resource for those whose spiritual involvement includes inter-faith and multi-faith interactions. Certain sections would similarly be appealing to students of world religions, and adults looking for direction in their prayer practices. Readers with highly personalized and rigid ideas about what prayer can and should be, will likely be less receptive and find it to be a harder book to finish.