A reflection by George Omohundro
Ever write a prayer? No? Why not? That's for theologians and, you know, priests and stuff. Maybe not. Consider some different perspectives on prayer, and, specifically, The Book of Common Prayer (BCP). First, think about the word "common" and what it might imply in the BCP context. Common means normal, everyday. It also means collective: Us together.
When Thomas Cranmer set out to write what would become the BCP for the Anglican church, he was, in effect, bringing prayer to the common people, rescuing it from the experts. The reformation of the Christian church made prayer common in both senses of the word.
Then, consider these excerpts from the Introduction to The Book of Common Prayer: The Texts of 1549, 1559 and 1662, edited by Brian Cummings, Oxford University Press, New York, 2011:
"The Book of Common Prayer is a set of words to accompany everyday life, a way of coming to terms with pain, pleasure and sorrows as well as a means to worship a creator . . . More than a book of devotion, then, [through its rites of christening, wedding and funeral] this is a book to live, love and die to . . . This is not an other-worldly or unworldly book of the spirit removed from the body, but a book of the daily experience of the body and of ordinary routine temporarily endowed with a quality of the eternal. . . It is a book of ritual, of practices and performances used to transform the activities of a life. Rituals are what make the human animal different . . . Ritual is a social act basic to humanity, the means by which we draw our lives together into a mutual practice."
From that description, focus on the idea of prayer transforming the common activities of your everyday life into something more than that. Focus on the idea of prayer drawing our individual lives together in community.
One of the most engaging activities that we offer our young people in the Journey to Adulthood program is learning how to write a Collect. It is surprisingly fun, and so much more. A Collect is a form of a petition to God that collects the people's prayers. Over the centuries, the Anglican Church has gathered its most cherished prayers to mark times and seasons, and they are embodied in the BCP. These prayers are designed to "collect our thoughts" and offer them to God. As we pray the Collects, we do so with the knowledge that others all over the world are praying with us. Collects generally fit the following simple pattern that was developed and perfected by Cranmer, but there are variations, and the form need not be followed rigidly.
(1) Address or Salutation - Addresses God, as in the beginning of a letter.
(2) Ascription - Addresses acts or characteristics of God.
(3) Request - Makes specific requests of God.
(4) Consequence - States what we expect will happen if God grants the requests.
(5) Doxology - Closes the prayer, often with reference to the Holy Trinity.
Our Stewardship theme this year is gratitude for God's grace, so I offer the following Collect in keeping with that theme.
Gracious God, your love for us, in all our weakness, is beyond our understanding. Let us know you and feel you when we are at our worst, that we may turn away from ourselves and our small purposes towards you. Lead us more often into the clearings of our minds, that we may see your kingdom spread before us in our lives, and so make right use of your gifts in gratitude to you, our Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer. Amen.
I encourage each of us to take on the spiritual discipline of writing down our prayers, in the Collect form or any other, as we are moved to do so through the course of our everyday lives. I am also proposing that we as a congregation begin a spiritual practice of "collecting" these original prayers on the St. Luke's website, cataloged by theme or season, and praying them together during our services throughout the year, selected by the clergy as the themes and seasons of these prayers align with the liturgical calendar or current events. Offer your prayers anonymously if you prefer, or don't offer them for publication at all, but do write them down and keep them. Take them out and pray them out loud sometimes, and maybe someday pass them along to someone when the time is right. You'll be glad you did. This discipline and practice will serve us each as individuals through the reflection and work of writing, and as a congregation, as we are drawn closer to one another and to God through the creation of a St. Luke's library of common prayer.
Read more about Collects at http://anglicanpastor.com/announcing-collect-reflections/.