As an artist, Kelly O’Dell Stanley brings a fresh perspective to her every day living. As a Christian, part of her every day living includes prayer. Praying Upside Down is her road map toward a life in which prayer is not merely an afterthought or a rabbit’s foot. Following the paths of her high school insecurities, her college geek phase, her mother’s cancer, her father’s art career, her real-estate debacle, her denominational angst, and her struggles with temper and hypocrisy onto the main thoroughfare of God’s calling in all of it, Kelly is training her readers in the art of seeing.
She draws on the advice of Betty Edwards (Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, 1979) who taught her students to turn an image upside down for better results when copying it. It turns out that a change in perspective in one’s prayer life has the same revelatory effect, for prayer mirrors realistic art in that we represent truthfully to God what we see before our eyes, but it is also like modern, abstract art “because it can be, at times, subjective, representational, and expressive of emotion.” When we turn our prayers upside down, we may find ourselves praying for others more than for ourselves, focusing on God’s infinite perspective instead of our own limited horizons, or ignoring the pointillism of daily details with the knowledge that “God has no trouble connecting the dots.”
The theologically persnickety among us (myself included) should read Praying Upside Down with generosity of spirit. Nowhere does Kelly say that there is more than one way of salvation. She does, most accurately, say that there is more than one way to pray, and that when joining with those of other faiths (or no faith at all, apparently) she has chosen not to be offended by focusing on their different perspectives. Apologetically, she is on to something, because when an atheist acts as if there is “someone” out there to pray to, her cognitive dissonance (set against the backdrop of a believer’s genuine faith) may well bring her nearer to the kingdom of God. The truth is that a vibrant and vigorous life of prayer will look different for everyone. Therefore, at the end of each chapter, Kelly offers suggestions in small doses for shaking up the mundane which she calls “Prayer Palettes.” Among her suggestions, my favorite was the connection of people and prayer requests with images from my surroundings or songs that remind me of the person. For example, whenever I see a Volkswagon, I pray for my high school music teacher because she drove one thirty-five years ago.
Those of us who “can’t draw a straight line” should not despair — Kelly says straight lines are basically useless in the art world anyway. There is wisdom from creative pursuits that will enhance our enjoyment of God:
- The importance of white space in painting corresponds to our need to leave room for God to work, to be God.
- Reducing a subject to its basic shapes when drawing highlights the importance of understanding what lies beneath the surface when we pray.
- The grid method of making an exact copy of an image silhouettes our heart’s need to break prayer requests down into manageable parts, and “to pray one square at a time.”
Kelly opens her readers’ eyes to new possibilities in prayer, and even more critically, she has learned the necessity of just showing up. Don’t wait for the ideal moment; don’t wait to be inspired. Only one Person matters, and He’s always there, waiting for the conversation to begin.
This book was provided by Tyndale in exchange for my honest review.
I’m making an effort to read extensively on prayer in 2015 (and to spend more time actually praying!). Here’s what I’ve been reading and writing about prayer this year: Lectio Divina: From God’s Word to Our Lives by Enzo Bianchi; Praying Over God’s Promises by Thomas Yeakley; my study on the prayers found in the Old Testament book of Nehemiah.
I link up with these communities on a regular basis: Soli Deo Gloria Connections, Inspire Me Mondays, Good Morning Mondays, Soul Survival, Testimony Tuesday, Titus 2 Tuesday, Tell His Story, Coffee for Your Heart, Live Free Thursdays, Faith-Filled Fridays, Grace and Truth, Fellowship Friday, Still Saturday, The Weekend Brew, Sunday Stillness, Faith and Fellowship, Blessing Counters, Women with Intention, Sharing His Beauty, Monday Musings, Motivate and Rejuvenate Monday.
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