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Talking to God

Talking to God: Portrait of a World at Prayer
edited by John Gattuso 
Milford, NJ: Stone Creek Publications, 2006 
176 pages
Reviewed by Kathryn Madden, CND

At a time when religious differences threaten the world community with unparalleled division, destruction and violence, Talking to God: Portrait of a World at Prayer comes to us as a stunning invitation to look at religion from the perspective of prayer as the universal ground for all faith traditions. In emphasizing practice rather than belief, John Gattuso’s pertinent collection of more than a hundred breathtaking photographs, fifteen compelling essays, and numerous stirring quotations and prayers from prominent writers of faith puts a powerful face on the diversity, beauty and mystery of religious expression.

The cover photograph is compelling. A woman kneels in clear water, hands to forehead, bowed in prayer. This nameless woman beckoned me to approach this splendid book by immersing myself in the depths of humanity’s common desire for communication with the sacred. I found myself in a fluid place, contemplating the exquisite glimpse of the world at prayer offered in the photos and text of the ensuing pages. In the foreword, Houston Smith writes:

This admirable book covers its subject so well that I had a hard time figuring out what I might add in this foreword. I finally decided that all of its chapters can be seen as icons. Icons are inspired paintings that we look through like a window to behold the Ultimate Reality that is God. All of God’s attributes converge, for there is no multiplicity in God…I found that iconic element in every entry in this book. (P. 15)

Through contemplating the icon of Talking to God, I experienced a new creation of wordless clarity around what unites us in the impulse to pray. I look forward to further pondering the wisdom of Mohandas Gandhi, Elie Wiesel, the Dalai Lama, Desmond Tutu, Kathleen Norris, and other contributors who remain rooted in their own traditions while modeling the ability to dialogue with other religions. The spirit and breadth of the entire volume is captured in Harold Kushner’s observation that “Prayer is first and foremost the experience of being in the presence of God” in ways that allow one to become “a different person for some time afterward” (p. 69). In this regard Gattuso has gifted readers with a magnificent resource for prayer for home, parish, retreat, and meditation settings.

I concur with Gattuso that the key message readers would best take from this book is “humility” or “a recognition that we are not sovereign beings, and that we don’t have all of the answers, whether we are religious or not. Perhaps this is what helps us to recognize the humanity of other people and deepen our capacity for compassion and forgiveness” (p. 12). In proposing and illustrating that no system of human thought can fully reflect the sacred, Gattuso offers the spiritual direction community a great deal worth “Talking to God” about.

Kathryn Madden, CND completed spiritual direction training in the Christian Spirituality Program at Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska, USA. She is currently a participant in the Center for Religious Development Associates Program in Spiritual Direction in Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA.

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