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Friday, February 22, 2013

Personal Prayers (or Lenten Ruminations)

In my personal devotional prayers, I regularly follow the Book of Common Prayer. It's something I've done for years. It has helped keep me stay glued into the larger struggles of the Church throughout the centuries.

This coming Sunday will be the 2nd Sunday in Lent. The prayer (known as a Collect) for this Sunday goes as follows:
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.

To help us reflect on the content of this prayer, it would be good to read excepts from C. Frederick Barbee and Paul F. M. Zahl: 
“The progression of the thought here is, like so many of the Collects, both devastating to the human being on his own terms, and at the same time hopeful. First, we admit to God the plain fact that “we have no power of ourselves to help ourselves.” ( . . . ) The Collect hinges on our earnest if reluctant agreement with the first point. Second, we are asking God, who exists outside us, to keep us. ( . . . ) Hold us, grasp us, claim us, do not let us slip through Your fingers like an eely tadpole or like grains of sand. Third, such keeping, or safeguarding, should result in the best defense. (  . . . ) the request is dual: defend us from all outward assault and defend us from all inward temptation. ( . . . ) The Collect devastates the human control factor and sets limitless hope upon the sure hold of God” ("The Collects of Thomas Cranmer," 37).
I have long hence committed this particular prayer to memory. It has become a regular companion as I have dealt with various difficulties and misfortunes. The portion of the Collect that has normally arrested my prayer-direction is the last, “and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul.” Whether wrestling with particularly hurtful parishioners, tackling the slithering, serpentine skepticism of my heart, or dealing with trials in my health or my extended family, this final request in the Collect has resounded in my heart and mind before God.

There is another prayer from the Eastern Orthodox tradition that has danced around my heart for years as well. These two go together like a Black and Tan. Together, they make a formidable team:
“O Lord and Master of my life, take from me the spirit of sloth, despair, lust of power, and idle talk. But give rather the spirit of chastity, humility, patience, and love to Thy servant. Yea, O Lord and King, grant me to see my own transgressions, and not to judge my brother, for blessed art Thou, unto ages of ages. Amen” (http://oca.org/orthodoxy/prayers/lenten-prayer-of-st.-ephrem).
Taking the two in hand, no matter what the season or circumstance, has been a strong potion to medicate the congenital disease lurking just below the surface of my persona. I hope you might find them helpful as well.

Mike

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