being here – Pádraig Ó Tuama

Being Here: Prayers for Curiosity, Justice, and Love by Pádraig Ó Tuama
Published by Eerdmans on January 23, 2024
Genres: Non-Fiction
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“What is prayer? It’s not a passport to heaven. If anything, it’s a way of seeing here, a way of being here.”

In Being Here, acclaimed poet and theologian Pádraig Ó Tuama offers a thoughtful collection of prayers and essays to focus attention in a world full of distractions. Featuring thirty-one collects—an ancient five-fold form of prayer—this unconventional devotional invites readers into a daily rhythm of connection and creativity.

“The hope is that you can turn to a prayer with the story of your life, and in the little emptiness you create there, hear something, discern something, feel something that’s connecting you to other things seeking out connection with you.”

Each day’s prayers are presented alongside Scripture and illuminating literary texts. The book concludes with four incisive essays on politics, community, and the contours of contemporary life as seen through biblical literature. Pádraig also teaches readers how they can embrace poetic form to expand their practice of prayer. In these pages, spiritual wayfarers will find a place both to rest and to grow their capacity for curiosity, justice, and love.

To understand being here: Prayers for Curiosity, Justice, and Love you have to understand two things: liturgy and living in the moment. For me, this book was a personal journey on learning about both. I grew up in a Christian tradition that looked down on liturgical, recited, or creedal prayers, so even though I have left that I have learned to see the value of liturgy, it is sometimes a struggle for me. Also, as a reviewer of books, my shelves are always filled to overflowing with titles to read. I read fast. I process information quickly. I always have. And this book and Pádraig Ó Tuama’s poetic insights are not a book for this.

Initially, I read being here as I would any book for review. Cover to cover. Never mind that it’s intended to be a thirty-one day devotional. And my recurring thought was “Wow there’s a lot of repetition here.” Each day has the same structure: opening prayer, a reading, a scripture, a place for silence, a collect (more on this later), and a closing prayer. Day 1. Okay. Day 2. Hmm. Day 3. Aren’t all these opening prayers the same? And the closing ones as well? So the only thing that changes from day to day is the reading (a quote from a different book), a scripture (also a quote), silence (just blank for about a third of a page), and the collect. All this is, then, is thirty-one collects, really…It seemed a lot of space for not a lot of novel material.

So I set it aside. I waited. Then I began to read it piece-by-piece. Day-by-day. And Pádraig Ó Tuama’s words—both those he had written and those he had selected—began to come to life. being here isn’t about a rush to obtain new information or consume new entertainment. It’s being being (about existing, about lingering, about being present) here (this one place, where things are often the same, gathering a sense of a familiarity and safety). The opening and closing prayers, repeated each day, became familiar. Yet, in meditating on them, I continued to find new meaning—meaning that I could only see on that day because of that day. There was novelty within the sameness. The places of silence (just empty places on the page) I began to see as an invitation to join Ó Tuama in a collaborative effort to work out the prayers and poetry.

It is the collects that offer newness for each today. In being here, Pádraig Ó Tuama offers thirty-one distinctive collects—a specific type of structured prayer. In the book’s preface, Ó Tuama explains this structure: 1) name to whom you are praying, 2) an unfolding of that name, 3) a naming of one desire, 4) an unfolding of that desire, 5) a word of praise. It’s simple. Address. Say more. Ask. Say more. End. It’s a poetic blending of formality and familiarity with poetic creativity. Ó Tuama captures it all perfectly.

Not everything needs to be consumed immediately. That’s what being here reminded me of. So this review might be a little delayed (this book released at the end of January and it is now the first of May), but some things require time, they require repetition, they require slowness, they require a sense of lingering presence, and being here is one such book. Pádraig Ó Tuama crafts a sense of unhurried and unperturbed presence even as he preaches a revolutionary message that calls for hope and justice. Truly, an incredible work of art.