Sunday, March 20, 2011

Lent II collect

Almighty God, who seest that we have no power of ourselves to help ourselves; Keep us both outwardly in our bodies, and inwardly in our souls; that we may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
One of the most beautiful collects in the Prayer Book. It suddenly dawned on me today that I have always interpreted and prayed for myself about the "evil thoughts" in a way that may well be different from that intended by the author. (According to an invaluable book, The Collects of Thomas Cranmer, by C. Frederick Barbee and Paul F. M. Zahl, the "author" in this case is someone, name unknown, writing in the 500's or even earlier. The collect comes to us by way of the Gregorian Sacramentary. Thomas Cranmer translated it for the Prayer Book.) I have always taken the "evil thoughts" to be worries, nightmare scenarios that suddenly assault the mind (and it definitely feels like that), or the inability to stop thinking about pieces of horrible knowledge one wishes one didn't have. The Internet, of course, raises the odds that one will accumulate such pieces of knowledge. In this interpretation I have probably been influenced by Elizabeth Goudge, who takes the phrase that way in the novel Pilgrim's Inn, which deals in part, as so many of Goudge's novels do, with severe mental strain.

I suddenly realized, though, that the original writer probably intended the "evil thoughts" to be temptations--the desire to do evil, the sudden thought of doing evil, perhaps coming to the mind as an assault from the Wicked One. That would be more in keeping with Lent, and I gather that the collect was originally written for Lent.

But one can pray the collect to God with either meaning, or with both.

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