“Stacy, would you consider doing a book review on Ten Prayers that Changed the World: Extraordinary Stories of Faith that Shaped the Course of History,” someone asked via e-mail.
I’m a junkie for books, all things free, and anything related to life-altering faith and so came the resounding yes.
The book arrived with a tote from National Geographic.
Um, that’s weird. What kind of connection is there between history-changing faith and National Geographic?
Yes, I’m slow. History-changing. That’s the kind of stuff National Geographic is all about. In fact, it’s also what they publish apparently since they’re the publisher of Jean-Pierre Isbouts’ newest book.
I wish I could say I gobbled the book in one sitting. The fact that I didn’t has less to do with the book and more with an overly maxed schedule that stretched even thinner as I began dabbling in real estate before my landlord could spike my rent higher. So after finishing my multiple jobs, checking MLS listings, filing taxes and caring for two kids that I adore, the minutes before bed became more of an “I made it” victory sigh as I climbed into bed rather than my usual (or theoretical, as the case may be) time to curl up and savor the words that others have penned.
All of that being said, I will be the first to admit that the challenge to stay awake while reading was definitely on me and has no bearing on Mr. Isbouts’ ability to craft words. I read with rapt attention (or as rapt as one can muster when much too tired), beginning with Abraham. With the skill of a historian, coupled with the ability to take the facts of years past and present them in an engaging manner, Isbouts details the life of Abram. In the voice of a storyteller, he shows the inner struggles of a man unsure of himself and even more uncertain of the call placed on him, a call including being the father of a great nation.
“Even now, looking back, Abram remembers that moment as he stood, mute and dumb, on the top of the hill while a hundred questions ran through his mind. Why? Why me? What is it that God expects of me, a lowly shepherd with a barren wife? How could I possibly become the head of a great nation? I don’t even have a son.” (pg. 23)
And yet, inner turmoil remaining, Abram left the only land he’d known with Sarai, his beautiful wife.
Yes, beautiful. So much so that Abram feared what would happen to him on account of her. So he told her to state a half-truth: “say you are my sister, so that it may go well with me because of you, and that my life may be spared on your account.’ Technically it was not a lie; Sarai was his half sister as well as his spouse, not uncommon in Mesopotamia” (pg. 26).
The mutated truth cause Pharaoh to believe she was a single woman, so he took her as his concubine.
“And then Abram did something that he had never done before in his life: He prayed to God. He didn’t know the proper form, how one prayed to an unseen power, unlike the deities in Mesopotamia whose idols were shaped just like human beings. …He prayed to god for forgiveness. He prayed to God for guidance. And he prayed that God save his wife, his beloved Sarai” (pg. 27).
As I re-read those words now at a time of day other than my stupor-like trance in the minutes before I drift to sleep, the words resonate and ring true, yet for whatever reason when I first read them, they startled, agitated and threatened. Yes, threatened to shatter what I believed. Not a salvation-ending kind of belief, but a belief that goes back to my young days sitting in front of the flannel graph. I sang about Father Abraham. He was one of the pillars of the faith. Surely that meant he knew how to talk to God.
I couldn’t accept Isbouts’ words, believing he was painting a picture of a faithless man rather than the one-dimensional depiction I had grown accustomed to. In fact, I didn’t want to read on because I “knew” about Abram and wasn’t sure how Isbouts’ accounts of him lined up with reality and therefore didn’t want to read narratives about people I was less familiar with and accept their stories as true. But despite my stubbornness, the words have challenged me for weeks now, stretching what I thought I knew to a different realm.
Yes, Abram was married to a barren woman yet became the father of a great nation. And yes, Abram followed God – but perhaps even more importantly, followed a God he wasn’t fully acquainted with. Somehow, that sounds incredibly familiar.
Isbouts paints Abram with the strokes of a realist. He doesn’t don a cape and become a far-off lore, but rather shows the fears, doubts, and yes, mistakes! And along the way, a quiet nudge whispers: yes, perhaps Abram’s prayers changed the world and perhaps if the prayers of a insecure, oftentimes passive guy could have such a profound effect, well, maybe mine can, too.
Mr. Jean-Pierre Isbouts, I commend you. It is no small task to get something past this oftentimes thick head of mine, especially when sleep is in short fashion. But you did. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if it were said that your book helped change the world as it motivates to dig deeper into the very thing your book speaks of: prayer.
About Jean-Pierre Isbouts
Jean-Pierre Isbouts is a bestselling author, historian, and award-winning director of documentary and feature films. A humanities scholar and professor at Fielding Graduate University of Santa Barbara, California, he has published widely on subjects in art, history and archaeology, and directed films for Disney, ABC, Hallmark, History Channel and other studios and networks. He has also produced a broad repertoire of classical music with ensembles in New York, Los Angeles and Amsterdam.
Find out more about Jean-Pierre at his website.