Prayers to an Evolutionary God

Prayers to an Evolutionary God

By William Cleary
Woodstock, VT: Skylight Paths Publishing, 2004. Hardback,178 pages.

William Cleary's Prayers to an Evolutionary God contains eighty prayers and some mighty big ideas, The latter are not just profound concepts to satisfy one's intellectual appetite; they are ideas the author expects the reader to engage with. Engaging with them, in fact, is the point. In his introduction he defines prayer as "a substantial thought turned into 'something to do." Cleary has produced his book to give people something to do "about the astonishing revelations of mystery found in evolutionary physics: say a prayer." For Cleary, prayer creates a path through mystery. These are evolutionary prayers for a universe seen from Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, the perspective of whose God, Cleary says, "was unapologetically an evolutionary God ... An evolutionary God is the one whose fingerprints and embraces and music we find in the evolutionary patterns in the unfinished world around us, the elusive mother and inventor of this ever-changing milieu," Cleary argues for a cosmic perspective: "Seeing earth from outer space redefines our global self-identity forever."

Teilhard de Chardin is one of two muses for the author. The second is Diarmuid O' Murchu, upon whose book Evolutionary Faith Cleary based the prayers and who wrote the afterword in Cleary's book remarking that it is the secular sciences-not religion and rituals-that are awakening us to mystery in the universe. Prayer needs to reflect the new paradigm. Formerly our prayers focused on a God who was "out there." Now science highlights not the absence but the presence of God-"in here" (in each of us).

Each prayer fits on one page; the facing page contains a prose explanation or expansion on the idea of that prayer. Each prayer is titled and has a subtitle as well. "Toward the Future-in Hopeful Times," for example, or "God of Closeness--Doubting Everything," (The titles, by the way, are alphabetized for a handy index.) Four sections of the book consist of prayers of listening, of questioning, of ambiguity, and of intimacy. They are addressed variously to Holy Mystery, Evolutionary Mystery, Holy Life Force, Mysterious God, and so on.

At first the language seems to jar. It definitely takes getting used to; it isn't poetic. For example: "Holy Mystery, our relational spirit-creator allow us to feel nonplussed/ by your evolutionary strategies'; so far beyond our present comprehension." Probably that is the point, though-to jar a bit. There is no comparison to the language of the King James Bible or to the prayers in the old Anglican prayer book, whose cadences and images Christians are comfortably familiar with. Cleary suggests we need new metaphors—“musical, aromatic, colorful, pleasure some." He demonstrates the aromatic when he says that "verbal prayers make sense if you know in advance that talking to God is like talking to your dog. You use words with your dog but it's likely he responds to your smell. God hears your words but probably ignores them in favor of the aroma of your heart, i.e., your kindness and compassion."

Contrasting the music of an older worldview that is exemplified by Gregorian chant, he notes that modern jazz reflects "a world concept full of improvisations and purposeful dissonance: an evolutionary world." Later, noting that we are surrounded by many kinds of musical energy, he says, "The least we can do is hum along."

Happily, a sense of humor crops up more than once. We humans long for "cosmic companions." If they do not exist, Cleary prays, "Please God, create them." And in the future, we will not sing of Brother Sun and Sister Moon, but of Brother Chance and Sister Chaos, Cousin Surprise and Uncle Randomness. In one essay he wryly notes, "If there is a God, God does not consider clear self-disclosure very important." In fact, he is not beyond importuning God with the qualifier "if you can." He prays we be recipients of God's own loving attitude-if He can provide it.

Again, praying for serenity, in a prayer titled "In Pain When Life Skills Fail," he says, "You are God: can you make it happen?"

He doubts. He questions. He ponders. He exults. He grins and his eyes twinkle. But underlying all, he worships. A humble awareness of the majesty of the Divine is reflected in these lines: "We give thanks, inadequate and almost preposterous as that seems."

Some of his penetrating insights are offered in the essays accompanying each prayer. The implications of evolution are that the world is creative, ever-changing, becoming. String theory implies uncertainty behind any order. The nonexistence of space, the nature of reality, the part dissonance and randomness play in the creative process, the bedrock of faith-the themes are varied and provocative.

This is a book probably not to be read through in one sitting (unless one is reviewing it! ) but: rather rifled through at different: times, choosing a prayer to suit one's mood and as a starting point for one's own meditation. But regardless of the use to which it is put, this volume by a former Jesuit priest is sure to intrigue thoughtful readers.


May/June 2005