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Sunday early afternoon book reviews

I'm [re-]reading Ursula LeGuin's wonderful Hainish The Telling, so I flipped through it looking for a good passage to quote. This one seems appropriate for Sunday. On the planet Aka, Ekemen Observer Sutty writes:

The Akans did not pray.

That seemed so strange, so unnatural, that as soon as she had the thought, she qualified it: it was very possible that she didn't properly understand what prayer was.

If it meant asking for something, they didn't do it. Not even to the extent that she did. She knew that when she was very startled she cried, "Oh Ram!" and when she was very frightened she whispered, "Please, please." The words are strictly meaningless, yet she knew they were a kind of prayer. She had never heard an Akan say anything of the kind. They could wish one another well -- "May you have a good year, may your venture prosper" -- just as they could curse one anther -- "May your sons eat stones," she had heard Diodi the barrow man murmur as a blue-and-tan stalked by. But those were wishes, not prayers. People didn't ask God to make them good or to destroy their enemy. They didn't ask the gods to win them the lottery or cure their sick child. They didn't ask the clouds to let the rain fall or the grain grow. They wished, they willed, they hoped, but they didn't pray.

If prayer was praise, then perhaps they did pray. She has come to understand their descriptions of natural phenomena, the Fertliser's pharmacopoeia, the maps of the stars, the lists of ores and minerals, as litanies of praise. By naming the names they rejoiced in the complexity and specificty, the wealth and beauty of the world, they participated in the fullness of being. They described, they named, they told all about everything. But they did not pray for anything.


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