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My Failed Crusade for Better Prayers Continues

My Failed Crusade for Better Prayers Continues


          Among my essays you will find a number of them devoted to a vexing issue (for me, anyway) in churches: the inability of pastors, priests, and laity to compose true public prayers.  From last February through June in each worship service I attended when prayer has been listed and then offered, there wasn’t any prayer, just another sermon, labeled as a “prayer.” 


          So much for the effectiveness of my complaining and explaining. 


          I suspect that the art of public prayer is not taught in seminaries.  If it is, then seminarians are not listening, or their professors don’t have a clue.


          To make up for this deficiency, I offer you the following, (1) a prayer that is really a sermon; and (2) a revision of the same prayer-sermon, more less, into a prayer.


A Prayer for Peace

God and Father of us all, who blesses the peacemakers as your children, help us to remember that blessing in the exchanges of the day when we are sore tempted to give every bit as hard as we have gotten, forgetting that a soft word turns away wrath, and continuing the deadly cycle of violence and revenge.  Hold before us the cross of Jesus that we may learn from him the ways of peace, that it is the second mile traveled, the cheek turned, and the enemy loved that proves faith’s courage and the soul’s maturity.  And when such courage is met with contempt and abuse, let us hold on more steadfastly still, knowing that our vindication will come in your good time, if not ours.  For we know that your will is love, for us and among us, and that, if love is to prevail, it must begin with us.  So do we pray in the name of the one whom we love and seek to serve, the Prince of Peace, Jesus.  Amen.


Here’s how I would cast the same prayer:


God and Father of us all, who blesses the peacemakers as your children, lead us not into temptation in the exchanges of the day, of giving every bit as hard as we have gotten.  Put on our tongues and in our hearts the soft word that turns away wrath.  Stop with us the deadly cycle of violence and revenge. Teach us the ways of Jesus.  Make the second mile and the turned cheek our reflexive response to insult.  Open our arms toward the other who stands in our way brimming with hate.  But prepare us for the harder part when kindness done does not meet kindness returned, steeling our faith in the shadow of the cross that we may hold on against all odds, assured that in your time, if not ours, your will will be done. We seek no martyrdom.  Sacrifice, good Lord, isn’t our plan.  Use us, nonetheless for your loving purposes in the world and grant us grace, generous, fulsome grace, to serve you with our lives, in the name of him whom we seek to follow, the Prince of Peace, Jesus the Christ.  Amen.


What’s the difference?  The second heartily assumes God is the listener, whereas the first assumes the real listeners are the congregation.  The second is full of petitions; the first is an iteration of wise and holy thoughts.  That is to say, the prayer should be needy.  All our prayers, other than those of thanksgiving, are to be said in that attitude, our desperate need.  But what is asked for will be guided by what the faithful soul knows God wants us to want.  How so?  From prior experience and the traditions of faith (e.g., the Bible). 


Will this essay change my Sunday morning experience, when, after bowing my head for the pastoral prayer, I raise it in thirty seconds as it becomes obvious I am not being led in prayer but being given a second sermon?  Probably not, but it doesn’t hurt to try.


Pass this essay along to your pastor or priest (rabbis too might benefit)… if you dare.

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