I'm writing this after three and a half hours in a dentist's chair; it will not be exhaustive.
As I've written before, I often use published prayers, particularly older ones and mostly the form known as the collect (accent on the first syllable). But I rarely use them untouched.
Here are three ways to modify a prayer you might find.
First, give in an introduction. If it's not clear why you are using a topical prayer, introduce it and bid the congregation to pray. Second, to make the prayer more fitting to the occasion, insert petitions. Third, if the prayer has phrasing that broadly impedes prayer, modify it, but try to keep the rhythm intact. This one is, I think, abused as license to do what you want, no matter how it flows thereafter. I'll retain some male language for God, but will smooth out excesses; I'll also remove generic male language where men means human beings. More about inclusion in prayer some time when my mouth doesn't throb so much.
Here's a worked example, from the section "Prayers for Family; Parents and Children; Children’s Sunday" in Additional Prayers and Collects from Hymns of the Spirit.
Here is how it originally appears:
Almighty Father of all, who dost set the children of men in families, enable us, we pray thee, so to guide the children committed to our care that they may love the ways of truth and of righteousness, of peace and of goodwill. Fulﬁll in them our divinest dreams, and through them carry forward the coming of thy kingdom upon earth. Amen.
Here is how I might change it.
Let us pray for children in the church :
Our One Parent, universal and gracious, who dost set children in families, enable us, we pray thee, so to guide those children committed to our care, especially Andrea, Bartholomew and Chiana, that they may love the ways of truth and of righteousness, of peace and of goodwill. Fulﬁll in them our divinest dreams, and through them carry forward the coming of thy kingdom upon earth. Amen.
These are all straight-forward, common-sense changes… unless you've never done it. Using prayer resources is more than pulling them out of the book.
A single prayer in the services before Hymns of the Spirit beginning "Almighty God grant that the words" comes from a book identified in the index as the Theistic Prayer Book. What is this and where did it come from?
It comes from the Theistic Church in London, that lasts from 1870 or 1871 until shortly after the 1912 death of its founder and minister, Charles Vorsey, who was driven out of the Church of England. (He's the father of the famous architech of the same name, if your mind goes to the Arts and Crafts.) At the church, the book was known as The Revised Prayer Book, and ran through three (1871, 1875, 1892) editions.
In both Hymns of the Spirit (p. 146) and The Revised Prayer Book, the prayer appears in a section for additional prayers (in the third edition); it appears, slightly re-arranged as prayer for the "close of worship" in Hymns of the Spirit.
It's been a hard day, and seeking solace, turned to prayer. I pulled this book off my shelf because the title -- Light and Peace -- spoke to me. It's a collection of prayers by Charles Hall Leonard, published by the Murray Press, a Universalist publisher, in 1915.
Leonard (1822-1918) was an outsized figure in Universalist history, was a professor and later dean of the theological school at Tufts, and remembered today I'd guess for creating Children's Sunday, though readers of this blog may be more interested to know that he was the unacknowledged author of A Book of Prayer for the Church and the Home, or what I call usually "the Universalist prayerbook."
One prayer "in memory E. H. C." bears repeating here. That was the thirty-years' Tufts president and Universalist minister Elmer Hewitt Capen, who died in office in 1905.
Prayers for deceased ministers have a special place in my heart, and particularly as Terry Burke, the long-time and much-loved minister of First Parish in Jamaica Plain was laid to rest today, and with whom some day we shall each share glory.
A Fruitful Life
O God, our heavenly Father: To whom can we go, but to Thee, who art our strength in weakness, our light in darkness, and our comfort in sorrow? To-day, we know not how to speak to each other, nor how to interpret to ourselves. We turn to Thee, and, first of all, beseech Thee to awaken within us the memory of all that has been precious in the life of our great friend and leader: his wise devotion to the college into which he built his life; his intelligent administration of its affairs in a manifold range of usefulness bearing upon its progress and growing facilities, and in that loving care and interest which reached the endeavor and the struggle of the humblest student. Help us to recall the calmness of his thought, his unselfish regard for others, his generous approval of all that is right and good, and his Christ-like pity and forgiveness toward all the weak and sinful. We remember the words, spoken in private and in public, which move us to-day with new power, because of this mystic silence.
We desire also to remember all that he was and is, and will be to us, as a part of permanent influence in all the relations which distinguished his life: in the privacy of his home, in the maintenance of a loyal service to the church, in all his efforts as an educator, and in the ampler calls of citizenship.
Help us, O God, in our sense of gratitude for all that this full life has been to us now that we read it anew, know anew its noble witness to learning, to charity, to religion, and get its larger message as from open skies.
We bow down before Thee, with whom are the issues of life and of death. Help us all to that acquiescence in grief, which, year by year, has been taught from this place, and, above all, breathed in the prayers that here have daily been put up in our behalf. Help these sorrowing teachers who waited for his step, were cheered, day by day, by the denials he so patiently took up, and were inspired more and more by his confident sympathy. We remember before Thee those who, in great procession along the productive years, moved through these halls, and bore hence the mark of the man they had learned to know, to honor and to love. And grant Thy especial favor to the students, in all ranks, and in all places, here and there, who are now enrolled as members of the college. Have regard unto their sad and questioning hours; and give joy to them also, that they came to know so well the man and president who greeted their coming at first.
And now, what wait we for but for grace and power, both for mind and heart; new motive in view of a great example; new ability to take up the tasks which a great leader has laid down; and new light, also, for comfort to those whose sorrow to-day is deepest, that there may be to them one fixed and tranquil object of thought and affection; and help us all to see that it is no fractional life that we are called to contemplate, but a life, forecast and fashioned in accomplishment, opening more and more into its own power and beauty, and, at the last, opening forth towards the realities of a world from which all veils were taken away. O God, most merciful and gracious, open our eyes to that grateful vision, that so we may be enabled to go on, to bear up, and to find our highest joy and peace in the field of duty to which now Thou dost send us back, and in the entrusted daily care to which Thou hast appointed us. Grant that, from the trembling moments of our human life, and from the mourner's watch, we may go forth with uplifted heart, and a diviner purpose, through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
I'm at that point in my Esperanto education that I had better move the next level or accept being left as an eterna komencanto: an "eternal beginner." That's not bad (article in English) per se, but I would like to attend conferences -- organized, if off-beat, travel (esperante) is one of Esperanto culture's big pay offs -- and I'm hardly going to do well, if I can't make dinner plans effectively. Some of the conferences are for and by Christians, (esperante) and they're appealing and (once you fly to Europe) cheap. So I figure I'd better memorize the Lord's Prayer.
Patro nia, kiu estas en la ĉielo,
sanktigata estu Via nomo.
Venu Via regno.
Fariĝu Via volo
kiel en la ĉielo, tiel ankaŭ sur la tero.
Nian panon ĉiutagan donu al ni hodiaŭ.
Kaj pardonu al ni niajn ŝuldojn,
kiel ankaŭ ni pardonas al nian ŝuldantojn.
Kaj ne konduku nin en tenton,
sed liberigu nin de la malbono.
Ĉar Via estas la regno
kaj la potenco
kaj la gloro eterne.
You may have noticed that there's a widget on the right-hand column called "This week we pray for" that has a date, a list of nations and a picture. This links to a prayer resource from the World Council of Churches, focusing on a different region of the world each year.
Each resource page features a photo, thanksgiving and petitions, prayers, links to information about the churches in those countries, and sometimes other resources. The idea is to stimulate intentional prayer for the people of the world.
So, Daisy the Dog greeted me this evening with a tap-dance show, like normal.
I had to help her on to the bed, but then she enjoyed Hop on Pop and Pillow Burrowing, like normal.
And she whimpered for (and ate) her usual food, like normal.
For these normal things, Lord, I am truly thankful.
One of the principles I brought into my morning and evening prayer practice is that I would read the prayers as printed until became accustomed to them. I would borrow their voice and let it become mine as I learned the internal logic of the services. I refused to be trapped by my own sensibility: a sensibility evoked with the joke about Unitarian Universalists reading ahead to see if they agree with the words of a hymn. Being a Unitarian Universalist is, too often, questing after fixing things whether they need fixing or not.
So I took time to listen. Now that I have a sense of this voice and rhythm, I've begun to make alterations. Very small one. (I'll write about a replacement soon.) These are the micro-alterations that a person or congregation, familiar with a liturgical text, will make, possibly without planning and likely without notice. An appeal less to change, but a flexibility that keeps the prayer from drawing too much attention to itself.
Small changes to gendered language. "All men" become "all." Or "men" become "people." Matriarchs join patriarchs. But I leave the "he" pronouns for God. Changing them would pull me too far out of prayer; instead, I pronounce these pronouns softly -- more like"ee" -- and keep going.
Pacing some items -- less timely, less resonant prayers, say -- faster than others. You can always slow down when they're needed.
Inserting petitions into collects. That's a blog post of its own.
"I will pray for you" and its secularized version "I'm thinking of you" are still lively expressions of concern, and often deeply valued by the person thought of or prayed for. Friends have approached me, asking for prayer, only last week.
"Of course," I said. And I mean it, and I have a plan to fulfil that request. I will pray for you.
There's a technique to adding petitions to collects. To review, collects (accent on the first syllable) are a variety of prayer with a particular structure, and they are typically prayed in a set series, with special collects added for particular occasions. In the morning and evening prayer the Universalists historically used, the collects come at the end. The collect "for all Conditions of Men" is a good place to add petitions, so I'll show it as printed, and then as I pray it. Prayers for clergy and congregations (I always pray for my ministers and church, for what it's worth), for this and other nations, for special occasions, and my blessings in this life come in other places.
O God, the Creator and Preserver of all mankind, we humbly beseech thee for all sorts and conditions of men; that thou wouldest be pleased to make thy ways known unto them, thy saving health unto all nations. More especially we pray for the good estate of the Church Universal; that it may be so guided and governed by thy good Spirit, that all who profess and call themselves Christians may be led into the way of truth, and hold the faith in unity of spirit, in the bond of peace, and in righteousness of life. Finally, we commend to thy fatherly goodness all those who are any ways afflicted or distressed, in mind, body, or estate; that it may please thee to comfort and relieve them according to their several necessities, giving them patience under their sufferings, and a happy issue out of all their afflictions. And this we beg for thy mercy’s sake in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
How I pray it today:
O God, the Creator and Preserver of all mankind, we humbly beseech thee for all sorts and conditions of men; that thou wouldest be pleased to make thy ways known unto them, thy saving health unto all nations. More especially we pray for the good estate of the Church Universal; and in particular the churches in Iraq, that it may be so guided and governed by thy good Spirit, that all who profess and call themselves Christians may be led into the way of truth, and hold the faith in unity of spirit, in the bond of peace, and in righteousness of life. Finally, we commend to thy fatherly goodness all those who are any ways afflicted or distressed, in mind, body, or estate; particularly Anna, Bailey and Carter; the refugees in Syria and Gaza; and people suffering with bulimia that it may please thee to comfort and relieve them according to their several necessities, giving them patience under their sufferings, and a happy issue out of all their afflictions. And this we beg for thy mercy’s sake in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
The semicolons are your friends. Added petitions seem to fit there naturally, or at the end of sentences. I'll later share some resources about finding additional, particular ("proper") collects.
Twice a day now, I pray for the President of the United States and others "in civil authority" as part of my morning and evening prayer practice. It is not only a hallowed practice, but one that gets its warrant in the same breath as a testimony made for universal salvation, namely 1 Timothy 2:1-4:
I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.
(Reading on in the same chapter, I'm not so fond about the part about women teaching; the author of this letter makes a hash out of his Genesis prooftext, too. I digress.)
But the prayer appointed in the evening is increasingly problematic. I've given a good try, but I need to find a replacement. It reads:
Almighty God, whose kingdom is everlasting and power infinite; Have mercy upon this whole land; and so rule the hearts of thy servants, The President of the United States, The Governor of this State, and all others in authority, that they, knowing whose ministers they are, may above all things seek thine honor and glory; and that we and all the people, duly considering whose authority they bear, may faithfully and obediently honor them, in thee and for thee, according to thy blessed Word and Ordinance; through Jesus Christ our Lord who, with thee and the Holy Ghost, liveth and reigneth, world without end. Amen.
Close versions of this prayer have been in use in the United States in a number of different prayer books for two hundred years. Also, if you were saying Evening Prayer among traditionalists in the Church of England, you would note it is in the place of the state prayers (particularly "Prayer for the Queen's Majesty"). Which is by way of saying this prayer bears more of the markings of a prayer for a Christian ruler than a prayer Christians would make for their elected leaders in a secular democracy. And while the author to Timothy had no imagining of our modern democracy, neither were the powers prayed-for either Christian or particularly sympathetic, so the tone of this prayer seems unnecessarily deferential.
The Optimist's Good Morning is a book of prayers and written selections, published by Little, Brown in 1907 but it's also a Universalist Publishing House title, and so not-surprisingly full of Universalist authors (and a few who aren't, like Confucius.)
Florence Hobart Perin, the compiler, was herself a Universalist leader, and presumably the same Florence Hobart who was the clerk of the old Boston Association in the late 1890s.
George L. Perin (link to picture), is the most cited author, was something of a denominational celebrity and former missionaries to Japan. (I've had a devilish time connecting Florence and George.) You might recognize some of the other names in it, like Quillen Shinn, Henry Nehemiah Dodge, Mary Livermore, Charles R. Tenney, Edwin C. Sweetser, Frederick A. Bisbee, Frederic Perkins and Wilburn D. Potter.
It speaks to an upbeat kind of Universalism that I've seen little written about, but for which each of these Perins were long-time proponents, if the print record is correct.