Sunday, November 18, 2007

A prayer for guidance

I apologize to my kind readers for having not updated here for a couple of weeks. I did post at What's Wrong with the World on a couple of topics: On the NRLC's nomination of Fred Thompson (I'm agin' it) and on my husband's and my recently drafted paper, "A Cumulative Case for the Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth."

The regular weekly collects here toward the end of Trinitytide always seem a little generic to me. Maybe I'm just not paying attention. But I'm going to branch out and go to the back of the Prayer Book, to the section called "Forms of Prayer to be Used in Families" and to the part of that called "Additional Prayers." This section evidently is not in the English Prayer Book but is in the American one from 1789 onward. Word has it that it was taken from a compilation of prayers first put together by Archbishop Tillotson. It doesn't follow that he wrote them, of course. And it seems to me pretty evident that the prayers in this section are the work of many hands. They certainly do not sound Cranmerian. So probably there are learned people out there who know where each of them came from, but I don't. This particular one is labeled "For Guidance."

O God, by whom the meek are guided in judgment, and light riseth up in darkness for the godly; Grant us, in all our doubts and uncertainties, the grace to ask what thou wouldest have us to do, that the Spirit of Wisdom may save us from all false choices, and that in thy light we may see light, and in thy straight path may not stumble; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

This prayer seems to me all by itself an answer to those who claim that written prayers stand between us and God and that extemporaneous prayer is the only way to speak to God personally. I hate indecision almost more than anything else. I always want to have some sort of backup plan, sometimes years in advance, in case the Plan A I have (also years in advance) doesn't work out. This prayer, it seems to me, is just what I would want to say to God when I'm trying to make a decision. So far from distancing me from God, it is a vehicle for the very request I want to make under those circumstances. Which is what a good liturgical prayer should be.

I could wish that, instead of some of the Oxford Movement-inspired additions to the liturgy that have come into High Church worship through the Anglican Missal, we could instead bring into our weekly liturgy some of these collects that are already in the Prayer Book and that have been there for so long. They don't particularly appeal to High Church sensibilities. If they were written by Tillotson, who would be quite unhappy at the Oxford Movement additions, this is only to be expected! But it doesn't matter. In fact, it's better so. In their grave, simple, and gentle wisdom, their sympathy for the human condition, and their application to that condition of the biblical injunction that we "come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need," the prayers from this section of the American Prayer Book can be an instrument of that Holy Spirit who helps us to pray when we "know not what we should pray for as we ought."

3 comments:

William Luse said...

Are you referring to the Book of Common Prayer? If so, I still dip into it because I grew up with it. Twas given me as a gift whilst a child, circa the 1950's. I have great sympathy, of course, for the Oxford Movement, but a good prayer is just that, whoever wrote it.

Lydia McGrew said...

Yeah, that's what I mean when I say "The Prayer Book." But there are a few editions, of course. I don't bother with the 1979 one. Pshaw, is my basic attitude there. :-) I'm almost always using the 1928 one. That's the American one, and it was changed very little from the late 18th century. The "English" prayer book I refer to is the Restoration one, from the early 1660's. I have a really cool edition of that one by a guy named Blunt. It gives the Latin originals for all the translated prayers in parallel columns with the English. But the "Forms of Prayer for Use in Families" isn't in there, so I don't have that kind of detailed info on those.

Christine said...

Of course, the Book of Common Prayer is simply a revised Roman Catholic Breviary (revised of all its "popery")... :)

Happy Advent!