Book Review - Prayers of the Cosmos by Neal Douglas-Klotz (Oct 2020)
Doreen offers a book review of Prayers of the Cosmos, Meditations on the Aramaic Words of Jesus by Neal Douglas-Klotz, Ph.D.
Prayers of the Cosmos is one of those precious works that pivoted me back to Jesus. When it came into my life, I was in a reconstructioning phase of my spiritual quest, searching for a better way to understand Christ’s teachings than the dogmatic, patriarchal, belief-based format I had learned in my childhood. As a lover of language, metaphor, and paradigm, I appreciate the author’s effort to bring a wider view to the scriptural passages at the center of Jesus’ teachings. It’s an illuminating interpretation of how we are to understand our place in the cosmos and aligns with my direct experience and studies of yoga philosophy. These most cherished prayers keep me close to the Holy One’s light-spark within my own center. Even after two decades, I still savor this book.
Dr. Douglas-Klotz, a Middle Eastern scholar, was "raised by Christian parents who were both devout and freethinking. They brought into his early life the impulse to worship and praise, as well as to question everything that constricted and opposed the injunction "love your neighbour as yourself." Hearing from childhood German, Yiddish and Polish in his home, raised on the stories and miracles of Jesus, Klotz formed an interest in language, spirituality, the body, and ecological justice early in life. In many ways, he has been pursuing these interests ever since." (Biographical information provided by Spirituality & Practice)
To aid his academic pursuits, Doublas-Klotz learned Hebrew and Aramaic to better understand Jesus’ teachings and the scriptures. What arose from that study is a whole series of books, lectures and a non-profit dedicated to “Native Middle Eastern spirituality, peacemaking and ecology, including work on the Aramaic words of Jesus, Hebrew and Native Middle Eastern creation mysticism and Sufism”, (www.Abwoon.org).
We don’t know the actual words Jesus used to teach his disciples to pray and seek wholeheartedly for God. They are lost in time. We do know where he taught, (in the Middle East where the world paradigm is somewhat different from the Greek/western world view) and we know he mostly taught in Galilean Aramaic (a predecessor of Syriac Aramaic) all of which can give clues to his meanings. In Prayers of the Cosmos, Douglas-Klotz explores, line by line, some of Jesus’ sayings: the Lord’s Prayer, The Beatitudes, The Golden Rule and The Principle of: Ask and You Shall Receive. He chose a Syriac Aramaic version of the Gospels, also known as the Peshitta (simple) Version and employed a Jewish form of scriptural exploration called midrash.
Midrash is a form of textual interpretation that aims to "discern value in texts, words, and letters, as potential revelatory spaces," writes the Hebrew scholar Wilda C. Gafney. "They reimagine dominant narratival readings while crafting new ones to stand alongside—not replace—former readings. Midrash also asks questions of the text; sometimes it provides answers, sometimes it leaves the reader to answer the questions."
Each line of the text is offered in both the King James (translated from Greek) and Aramaic to English. Then in the traditional Jewish midrash format, he explores meanings from several levels: intellectual to study the root meaning of the words, metaphorical to explore different possible meanings among the richness of the Aramaic roots and the universal/mystical level with open ended meditations or ‘body prayers’ to allow the reader to viscerally experience what Jesus might have meant.
He highlights that the richness of expression and variety of interpretations inherent in Aramaic breathes life into the sayings and clears up some of the paradoxes and confusion associated with Jesus’ words. For instance the word and concept of ‘Heaven’ was much more than a place to go after leaving the body; it was here and now, a sense of the Holy One’s vibration shining throughout all activity and all potential. Further, his descriptions about the Middle Eastern worldview, where language has deep roots in nature, a deep respect for the feminine and a unified, integrated view of body, mind and spirit provide context to better understand Jesus’ words.
For instance, in the first line of the Lord's prayer, (which the author refers to in more universal terms as “Original Prayer”) the word translated as “Our Father” is abwoon. The author notes “the ancient Middle Eastern root ab refers to all fruit, all germination proceeding from the source of Unity”; woon refers to the creative process. Ab (which we know in Abba) has original roots that do not specify a gender and could be translated as ‘divine parent’.
Other examples include “Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth,” which might be interpreted as "Healthy are those who have softened what is rigid within; they shall receive physical vigor and strength from the universe." ‘’Love your neighbor” might be interpreted as “draw a breath of compassion for the one mysteriously drawn to live near you: love that friend as you love the self that dwells within - the subconscious that sometimes feels separate and intruding.”
Emphasizing how language and culture affect interpretation leads the author to another important concept: commonality between traditions as a way to promote unity. He writes: “All the major contemporary traditions of the Middle East – Jewish, Christian, and Islamic – stem from the same source, the same earth, and probably the same language. All originally called God either El or Al which means ‘that’, ‘the One’ or ‘that One which expresses itself uniquely through all things.” From this root arises the sacred names Elat (Old Cannanite), Elohim (Hebrew), Allaha (Aramaic), and Allah (Arabic). If this simple fact became better known, I believe there would be much more tolerance and understanding among those who consciously or unconsciously perpetuate prejudice between what are essentially brother-sister traditions.”
Embodied prayer is another concept he highlights, and one that is closely aligned with hatha yoga. For each line, practices are offered to attune these prayers to the cells of the body. Vibration through sounding the words, simple movements or repeating a line along with a breath pattern invite participation that enhances both the intellectual and metaphorical understanding and takes the prayers out of the ‘mind’ and towards an inclusion of the whole self – more with God. Like the devoted practice of yoga, Christ-centered embodied prayer integrates and yokes (yuj) body and mind to the Holy One’s light-spark within.
These translations invite an embodied experience that can transcend (and include) traditional orthodoxy. Reading them fresh can deepen the experience. This book may serve those who find that they are no longer inspired by their current prayer practices. It may be especially helpful for those who feel left out or wounded by church orthodoxy.
Christ-centered yoga teachers may enjoy the practices that echo yoga’s way of going to prayer and meditation with a calm nervous system and a quieter mind to better hear Christ’s message.
The Original Prayer The Lord’s Prayer King James Version - Matthew 6:9-13 Our Father which art in Heaven Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory for ever and ever. Amen. One Aramaic Version O Thou! The Breathing Life of all, Creator of the Shimmering Sound that touches us. Focus your light within us – make it useful: Create your reign of unity now – Your one desire then acts with ours, as in all light, so in all forms. Grant what we need each day in bread and insight. Loose the cords of mistakes binding us, as we release the strands we hold of others’ guilt. Don’t let surface things delude us, but free us from what holds us back. From you is born all ruling will, the power and the life to do, The song that beautifies all, from age to age it renews. Truly – power to these statements – may they be the ground from which all my actions grow: Ameyn.