Thursday, January 26, 2012

Lord, teach me...

A prayer that is a favorite of mine was authored by +W. Harry Krieger.  Old ones like me will recall the name and the man.  Anyway the prayer is, I believe, original by him.  It is a prayer that I like because of what it says and how it says it.  It is the kind of prayer you pray all the time because the need is ever present and its petitions never go out of style.

Teach me, O Lord, not to hold on to life too tightly.  Teach me to hold it lightly; not carelessly, but lightly, easily.  Teach me to take it as a gift, to enjoy and cherish while I have it, and to let go gracefully and thankfully when the time comes.  For the gift is great, but the Giver greater still.  You are the Giver, O Lord, and in You is the life that never dies; through Jesus Christ, our Lord.  Amen  

Another one by Krieger that is also very good but not quite as good as the first is this one.

Disturb us, O Lord, when we are too well pleased with ourselves; when our dreams have come true because we dreamed too little; when we have arrived in safety because we sailed too close to the shore. Disturb us, O Lord, when with the abundance of things we possess we have lost our thirst for the water of life; when having fallen in love with time we have ceased to dream of eternity; and in our efforts to build the new earth, have allowed our vision of the new heaven to grow dim. Stir us, O Lord, to dare more boldly, to venture on wider seas, where storms shall show Thy mastery, where losing sight of land we shall find the stars. In the name of Him who pushed back the horizons of our hopes and invited the brave to follow Him. Amen.

I have learned much by praying the prayers others have written and I continue to learn much from the prayers authored by others.  Once someone told me that when I prayed (in public) I sounded like a prayer book.  I took it as a compliment.  It was not meant that way.  I have to say that I really don't know how else you learn to pray than by praying the prayers of others.  As a child I learned to pray from the prayers of the hymnal and the prayers of my parents.  I expect most Christians who grew up in Christian homes learned the same way.  The collects were particularly impressive to me and still are.  Everyone ought to give thanks for those Germans who turned to the Book of Common Prayer in attempting to translate the ancient collects into English.  You cannot go wrong with Cranmer.

The language of prayer should elevate as well as communicate.  I am not at all suggesting that simpler or more basic language is not pleasing to God or that He does not hear those prayers. Perhaps its is like the old dilemma -- is your spouse the one person you can dump on or the one person you cannot?  I believe that it is not a bad thing to begin prayer by remembering that God is God and you are not.  Good language and good prayer models can help us understand this.  Praying is not like a couple of old friends sitting on a bar stool pouring their heart out to each other.  Praying always begins with the acknowledgement that God is God, the Most High, and we are creature, sinner, and unworthy of His ear or His answer.

I am not too excited about attempts to modernize old prayers.  It seems to me that tinkering with the language of old prayers is a bit like tinkering with  the language of hymns -- it may be communicate better but it does so with a whole lot less eloquence.  I have a number of prayer books (including Doberstein's Minister's Prayer Book) and they are like old friends to me.  Sometimes, when I being reading the prayers (and praying them) I find I cannot stop and end up going on and on -- they are so absolutely addictive.

I recall a lesson in which we were asked to write a collect (an English literature class in an LCMS college).  It was harder than a sonnet and it taught me something about the language of prayer, about the cadence of the words, about the richness of those words, and about the wisdom of those who have gone before me.  Too many prayers are rather pedestrian -- you pray them once, okay, but you are not likely to pray them again.  I am just the opposite.  I tend to prayer the same prayers over and over again -- because through them I have learned to prayer and those prayers have become the scripts so faithful to the desires of my heart.

Like this one.

Almighty God, unto Whom all hearts be open, all desires known, and from Whom no secrets are hid: Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of Thy Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love Thee, and worthily magnify Thy holy Name: through Christ our Lord. Amen.


Pr. Kurt Hagen said...

Pr. Peters, have you ever used the Brotherhood Prayer Book? That particular volume has been my entry into the rich & beautiful world of time-tested prayers. The BPB has become a daily companion for me and a valuable part of my devotional life. "The Lutheran Hymnal" had many of those same collects and prayers also, but few used them or looked at them by the time I got to TLH (in my early gradeschool years.)

Shawn Rutledge said...
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