Still running strong

Malcolm Boyd’s classic prayer book updated and reissued
June 1, 2006

Malcolm Boyd became known in the 1960s as “The Espresso Priest” for his religiously-themed poetry-reading sessions in coffee houses across the nation. He went on to record his prayers to Jesus and in 1966 wrote the landmark book Are You Running With Me, Jesus?

Boyd's prayers, which engaged traditional Christian themes with a decidedly contemporary voice, broke the mold from which devotional texts had previously been made. They were honest, direct and insightful, while at the same time took on issues of everyday concern such as personal freedom, racial justice and sexuality.

Forty years later, people still debate Boyd’s collection of prayers which have influenced generations of Christian and seekers.

“Malcolm Boyd was one of the prophets who revealed to us that God is with us and we can talk to God one-on-one with openness and honesty,” said Martin of Nashville, on a web site. “Malcolm's writing was such a burst of fresh air to me that, at age 15, after reading for a while I sat for probably two hours or so just opening my heart to God…It changed my whole outlook on God, religion and life..”

A woman from Texas had a decidedly different outlook. “How can I compare pabulum and meat? When I was first given this book back in the '60s, I was a marginal Christian who wasn't interested in knowing how the Savior wanted me to live, so this book was perfect for where I was at the time. Now I've put away childish things,” she said.

However one looks at his prayers, Are You Running with Me, Jesus? lives on. Boyd, writer-in-residence at Los Angeles’ Episcopal Cathedral Center, marks this month with two celebrations – his 83rd birthday on June 8 and a 40th anniversary edition of his book, produced by Cowley Publications ($15.95). Last December, he celebrated the 50th anniversary of his ordination.

The anniversary edition will contain several new prayers with new topics, replacing several old ones. “Its author could hardly do otherwise, espousing as he does a prayer method that must be both timely and timeless,” said Johnny Ross, the book’s editor. “His original prayer compilation did not need a prayer decrying U.S.-sanctioned torture then, but today, if Are Your Running With Me, Jesus? is to teach new readers as it taught readers 40 years ago, it definitely does.”

Boyd says in his introduction that he came to see God, not as an impersonal machine computing sins in some celestial corporate office, but as one who is loving, even vulnerable, in an unsentimental and profound way.

“I came to understand that many prayers are uttered or felt without prescribed forms of piety,” he said. “If you listen, you can hear sacred thoughts and reflections in the novels, songs, plays, and films of a wide range of contemporary artists. Authentic prayer bridges a heretical gulf between the sacred and secular, the holy and profane.”

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