In a world beset, for the first time, with the very real prospect of annihilation of the human race, this broad spectrum collection of quotations from the Bible and other sources, together with the author's reflections comes like a refreshing spring rain on a parched earth.
The passages are organized in 20 chapters mostly according to such natural history topics as flora, fauna, the earth, the universe, the seasons, but with others identified with creation, co-creation, angels, suffering and death. The integration of the secular (the natural) with the spiritual (the supernatural) by the author is a novel approach much needed in a world where these two viewpoints are often aggressively and confusedly pitted against each other.
Quotations of Henry David Thoreau (from a secular standpoint) echo the sacred expressions of St. Francis of Assisi, both extolling the beauty of Nature but from different perspectives. By judicious selection, the author has created a vade mecum to accompany the Nature-loving naturalist on a stroll through a meadow or forest pausing now and again to read a line or two and ponder more deeply the meaning of it all.
It also serves as a mini-concordance of both sacred and secular subjects for those whose memory is as weak as their faith is strong. Tucked in among many pages of biblical reference one will find quotations of Plato, St. Augustine, Mark Twain, St. Maximilian Kolbe, Pascal, Pope John Paul II, and many other serious thinkers. (The "Catholic" in the title refers to Anthony Brach's reflections and not necessarily to the religious affiliation of all the contributors.) The book is for all readers. A short meditation accompanies each chapter.
The book is written "...for those who enjoy Nature", and the author suggests that scientists, of which he is one, have searched for God through evolutionary theory and "deep ecology." Those Catholics and others, who believe that an understanding of natural evolutionary theory is incompatible with a belief in a supernatural Creator, fail to distinguish the natural from the supernatural and deify the earth as "Gaia" and "Mother Nature." Creation is a supernatural act making something from absolutely nothing. Evolution is the sequence of change between living beings through time (i.e., "descent with modification"). Leaves of Prayer is a collage of spiritual readings and not a theological treatise nor a scientific report. It invites the reader to come aside a while, reflect on the meaning of Creation and enjoy the peace and quiet of deep meditation. For those of us scientists who have done so, Darwin rings true: "The birth both of the species and of the individual are equally parts of that grand sequence of events which our minds refuse to accept as the result of blind chance." Evolution does involve chance and natural selection, but for humans it involves much more. Understanding is followed by appreciation and only humans can appreciate the "grand sequence of events" that Nature provides. Finally, appreciation leads to love for the Creator, which was expressed so eloquently yet so simply by St. Francis of Assisi's characterizing non-human creatures as his brothers and sisters! Leaves of Prayer is a step in that direction.
Lazarus Walter Macior, O.F.M.
Professor of Biology, Emeritus
13 June 2002 (Feast of St. Anthony of Padua)