For book jugglers like me comes Robert Benson's "Venite: A Book of Daily Prayer" (J.P. Tarcher, 304 pp.). "Venite" means "come": it is an invitation, "to pray the ancient prayer until our lives become a prayer." Like many evangelicals, Benson finds praying traditional prayers, especially a pattern of prayer like the Daily Office, refreshing and helpful. To assist his fellow pilgrims, Benson has put into one volume a routine of morning, noon, evening and night prayers with seasonal collects, canticles, psalms, and gospel readings for different services.
Venite is wonderfully portable, the laptop of prayer books. The collects, canticles, psalms, and gospel readings are well chosen and thought-provoking. He weaves thematically related gospel texts, inviting slow reading and meditation. Even the fact that the canticles, psalms and gospel readings appear without verse markings makes them seem fresh and appealing.
The book can be confusing at times, and Benson is traditional to the point of being esoteric. How many of can pray wholeheartedly in remembrance of Chad, Bishop of Litchfield ("Your servant Chad cheerfully relinquished the honors that had been given him: Keep us, we pray, from thinking of ourselves more highly than we should, and ready to step aside for others, that the cause of Christ may be advanced.") Despite its efforts to be accessible, Benson uses technical terms, such as "collect," interchangeably with vernacular counterparts, like "seasonal prayer." Brackets sometimes enclose the title of the following section; a few lines down the brackets indicate that the reader should turn to a different section to find the day's collect.
The question of accessibility brings us to the most pressing problem with Venite: who's it for? Those used to saying the Daily Office might find this book unnecessary; all others might find it unduly mystifying. For them, Venite would have benefited from more than the provided explanation of how to use the book, such as some sort of outline for the uninitiated. Even for the initiated, a number of colored ribbons to place in various parts of the Morning Prayer Office, for instance, would make the book more useful.
Still, when I climb onto an airplane later this week, I will be clutching my copy of Venite, although my copy will be sporting some well-placed book marks.