HOLY SPIRIT I PRAY: Prayers for morning and nighttime, for discernment, and moments of Crisis. By Jack Levison. Brewster, MA: Paraclete Press, 2016. Xi + 114 pages.
It is standard Trinitarian procedure to pray to the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit. To pray directly to the Holy Spirit is not unheard of, but it’s not the most common way of praying. Yet, there are valid reasons why one might want to address prayers directly to the Holy Spirit. After all, when one gathers at the Table and blesses the communion elements, one invokes the Holy Spirit, inviting the Spirit to be present in and with the elements that the recipients might be drawn into the presence of God. Nonetheless there are few resources available that invite us to address the Spirit in prayer. Jack Levison, who has written a number of thoughtful books on the Holy Spirit, has chosen to rectify that lack of resources. He has composed a set of prayers to the Holy Spirit, which have been published by Paraclete Press, which sent me a review copy to peruse.
As the author of a book on the work of the Holy Spirit myself, I am always on the alert for works that speak to the role and work of the Holy Spirit. Since Jack Levison has devoted a great deal of attention to pneumatology, I’ve had opportunity to read his work. My prior experience with Jack’s books is that he seeks to develop a Pneumatology that balances ecstasy with learning and virtue. He challenges Charismatics and Pentecostals to deepen their theology of the Spirit. That same perspective is present in this collection of prayers.
Levison, whose academic training is Old Testament studies, prefaces his collection of prayers by lifting up three Hebrew words—ruach (Spirit), ml’ (fill), and rachaph (brood). He suggests that if we understand these three words then they will open “the door to a richer, fuller, more durable use of this book—and experience of the Holy Spirit” (p. vii).
Many of our biblical words have a much fuller meaning than we often expect when we meet them in English translation. Thus, the word ruach is often translated as Spirit, and often references God. It can also be translated as wind, breath, and a number of other terms. Context will help us with this, but the fact that a word has multiple meanings offers greater nuance. Levison suggests that in writing these prayers he play on this “deep resonance of the Hebrew word ruach (p. viii). As for the second word, “fill,” the Hebrew word ml' speaks of "making full, bringing to completion, fruition, wholeness, fullness" (p. x). Levison writes that as one brings these meanings into the conversation, “the Holy Spirit may break in from the outside, and you’ll find your usual boundaries broken down. Or, the Holy Spirit may gradually fill you to the brim with vitality you never imagined, as your relationship with the Holy Spirit, little by little, becomes more personal, more intimate, more life-giving” (p. viii). The third word is translated as brood (Heb. rachaph). Levison writes: "when we first meet the Spirit, in the Bible's seventeenth word (in the original Hebrew), we glimpse a bird of prey plucking its young, carrying them to safety, and teaching them to fly. Chaos can't withstand the eagle's presence" (p. xi). He writes that the book offers engagement -- a reminder that in the Spirit we are prepared to fly, not hide!
These three Hebrew words undergird the prayers that follow. When we pray to the Spirit, we go expecting divine breath and wind to blow in on us; we go expecting to be filled from outside and from inside; we pray expecting God’s presence to be hovering over us. We cannot hide.
The prayers come in five types. The first are designed to be offered up in the morning. The second set in the evening. The third set of prayers are written in such a way to help the user move toward discernment. The fourth set were written with moments of crisis in mind. Finally, there are prayers that can be prayed at any time. The prayers are thoughtful and even poetic. Most are brief, and they reflect to some degree the message of the scripture readings that are paired with them. Levison is theologically astute, and so the prayers evidence deep theological wisdom.
Perhaps the best way to describe the prayers is to a share a couple of them. The first prayer is prescribed for mornings and is paired with the reading from Acts 2 that describes Pentecost. The prayer goes like this:
Don’t let me come unsuspecting to Pentecost,
Or arrive ill-equipped at ecstasy.
Sharpen my will to study
Hone my mind to think
Whet my appetite to learn.
And when I part my lips
And breath out words
God’s praiseworthy acts—
Let them come first.
Amen. (p. 12).
The second prayer is offered for times of crisis is paired with a reading from 1 Thessalonians 4:3-8:
Holy Spirit, I panic.
I forget to breathe,
the impulses are so strong
the forces relentless,
the lure tenacious.
When I forget to breathe,
breathe into me, Holy Spirit.
Restore my equilibrium.
Rescue the rhythm of my soul,
The beat of my heart.
The body calmed, tranquil, at peace.
Reminded to breathe.
I rest, Holy Spirit.
I rest, Holy Spirit.
Amen. (p. 68).
The prayers are thoughtful, even poetic. They take into account the Scripture readings. They have theological grounding. They’re designed to help us encounter the Spirit in the context of our lives.
He writes that “engagement with the Holy Spirit, who broods over the bedlam of our lives, our world, like an eagle, with a vigilant eye—an eagle eye—and powerful pinions” (p. xi). You can expect rest, he declares, but you will also experience engagement. These prayers directed to the Holy Spirit will help us fly! And that is important.