Donate to RNS

Book Explores Why _ and How _ the World Prays

c. 2006 Religion News Service (UNDATED) Gandhi swore by it, saying he could do without food for days _ but not a single moment without prayer. Prayer can lead us to confuse God with Santa Claus, Rabbi Harold Kushner wrote. Or it can make one feel foolish and artificial, 19th century philosopher William James once […]

c. 2006 Religion News Service

(UNDATED) Gandhi swore by it, saying he could do without food for days _ but not a single moment without prayer.

Prayer can lead us to confuse God with Santa Claus, Rabbi Harold Kushner wrote. Or it can make one feel foolish and artificial, 19th century philosopher William James once said.

But prayer _ and the human need to pray _ essentially unites us all. That’s the philosophy behind a new, richly illustrated book, “Talking to God: Portrait of a World at Prayer,” by John Gattuso and published in October by Stone Creek Publications.

Through scores of photographs of people from around the world in prayer, interspersed with essays from some of the greatest spiritual thinkers and writers of the modern era, “Talking to God” looks into the mystery of why _ regardless of our religious beliefs _ humans pray.

“Before we get into the specifics of our particular religions, the orthodoxy, the dogma, what I find the most compelling about faith is, what is it about people that compels us to search for meaning in our various religion traditions?” said Gattuso, a Roman Catholic and publisher of illustrated books and creative nonfiction.

Religion’s sad ability to divide is well-documented in any newspaper on any given day, but transcending our spiritual differences is the shared desire to reach out for a divine connection, Gattuso said.

“Here’s common ground that people of faith share _ a way to explore the topic of religion in a way that is relevant to everybody.”

Inside “Talking to God,” a Navajo cowboy in Arizona kneels in the dirt, head bowed reverently, fingers clutching his black hat, before entering the rodeo ring to ride a bronco.

An Indian woman slips into the Ganges, outstretched arms lit golden by the sun, and pours water symbolic of her prayers into the river’s depths.

These are among more than 100 pictures by more than 50 photographers that strikingly capture people in moments of meditation.

Gattuso believes photography is an essential way to explore religion.

“With a photograph of a person, you can look into someone else’s eyes _ someone on the other side of the world you’d never meet in person. And with faith, there’s so much about faith that cannot be put into language.”

The exultancy of prayer jumps out of a photograph of Christians in Dallas with arms outstretched and mouths wide open in shouts of praise. Joy shines from the eyes of Hindu worshippers at a colorful temple in England in celebration of Krishna’s birth. The sheer emotion in the weeping eyes of a Guatemalan woman at Mass attests to the raw honesty that prayer exposes.

“It is one of the most eloquent photographic books I’ve ever seen,” said Huston Smith, retired professor of religion at Syracuse University and one of the nation’s foremost religion experts, who wrote the foreword for the book.

“It captures the devotional spirit of the person who is praying in ways that are so moving and carries you so much into the heart of prayers that some of them brought tears to my eyes.”

In essays on prayer written by the Dalai Lama, Gandhi, the late Pope John Paul II, retired Archbishop Desmond Tutu and other modern spiritual leaders and writers, “Talking to God” delves into such controversies as the effectiveness of prayer and whether it is necessary to believe in God to pray.

“Prayer is either a sheer illusion or a personal contact between embryonic, incomplete persons (ourselves) and the utterly concrete Person,” writes the late Christian theologian C.S. Lewis in his essay, “The Efficacy of Prayer.”

Spiritual writer Thomas Moore suggests that belief in a God is not necessary for prayer, saying people simply pray out of a need to talk to something outside themselves.

Zen master and peace activist Thich Nhat Hanh writes in praise of meditation, which he says produces an aura of compassion that permeates the lives of those around us.

Gattuso said he hopes readers can emerge a bit more humble, realizing the value of studying other religious beliefs and customs.

“All faiths are in some way incomplete. What we conceive of as divine is imperfect, because of our own human limitations.”

KR/PHE END CHO

Editors: To obtain photos from “Talking to God,” go to the RNS Web site at https://religionnews.com. On the lower right, click on “photos,” then search by subject or slug.

Donate to Support Independent Journalism!

Donate Now!