Tuesday, October 9, 2007

We Pray Unrealistically

While praying Matins in the Lutheran rite, the last Collect is the "Collect for Grace,"

O Lord, our heavenly Father, almighty and everlasting God, You have safely brought us to the beginning of this day. Defend us in the same with Your mighty power and grant that this day we fall into no sin, neither run into any kind of danger, but that all our doings, being ordered by YOur governance, may be righteous in Your sight, through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives... (LSB p. 228)
According to L. Reed, this prayer was found originally in the Gelasian Sacramentary, a predecessor to the Gregorian Sacramentary. Reed also connects this prayer with one attributed to St. Basil in the Eastern Rite First Hour.

Here is a prayer from the end of the First Hour from the Horologion:
Thou Who at all times and at every hour, in heaven and on earth, art worshipped and glorified, O Christ God, Who art long-suffering, plenteous in mercy, most compassionate, Who lovest the righteous and hast mercy on sinners; Who callest all men to salvation through the promise of good things to come: Receive, O Lord, our prayers at this hour, and guide our life toward Thy commandments. Sanctify our souls, make chaste our bodies, correct our thoughts, purify our intentions, and deliver us from every sorrow, evil, and pain. Compass us about with Thy holy angels, that, guarded and guided by their array, we may attain to the unity of the faith and to the knowledge of Thine unapproachable glory: For blessed art Thou unto the ages of ages. Amen.
I don't know if this is the prayer Reed had in mind. Obviously these are parallel prayers, but not the same. Note, however the emphasis on our sin and the goodness and mercy of God in this Eastern prayer. This is a feature common to many of the prayers of the Eastern Liturgy of the Hours (aka the Daily Office, or Matins, Vespers, etc.). Add to this the near-continual refrain "Kyrie eleison" throughout Liturgy of the Hours and you get an overwhelming prayer of repentance and faith; there is a saying that the Orthodox find something good to say or do, then they do it three times...or forty.

But praying that we not sin this day strikes me as at once humble and bold. It is bold. How dare we desire such a thing? How could this possibly be, to live an entire day sin-free? Is this a realistic prayer?

Such is it a prayer of humility, for it is unrealistic for us. We sin by "thought, word, and deed," or as the Orthodox pray, we ask God to "sanctify our souls, make chaste our bodies, correct our thoughts, purify our intentions, and deliver us from every sorrow, evil, and pain." So in humility it is our prayer that God would give us such grace as to accomplish this, for we are weak and indolent. It is only our Master that may grant such grace and strength.

But again, is it realistic? The pragmatists in us deny it, and if we are pragmatic, there's no use in doing something, trying something, that cannot be done. To this there is only one response: would you pray the opposite? Would you pray that God would grant us to fall into sin? God forbid! Here our pragmatism must die to Christian hope and faith. Lord may it be so!

8 comments :

  1. William Weedon said...

    What a beautiful meditation, Christopher. Thank you for sharing that. We do indeed dare to ask the impossible. To hell with pragmatism!

    You know the prayer from the East that didn't make it into LSB but that was in LW that I really, really loved was in DS II, when there was "no communion" - I always thought it would be great for Matins:

    O Lord our God, you have commanded the light to shine out of darkness, and you have again brought us to your house of prayer to praise your goodness and ask for your gifts. Accept now in your endless mercy the sacrifice of our worship and thanksgiving, and grant us those requests which will be wholesome for us. Make us children of the light and of the day and heirs of your everlasting inheritance. Remember, O Lord, according to the multitude of your mercies, your whole church, all who join with us in prayer, all our sisters and brothers wherever they may be in your vast kingdom who stand in need of your help and comfort. Pour out upon them the riches of your mercy, so that we, redeemed in soul and body and steadfast in faith, may ever praise your wonderful and holy name; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and always through all ages of ages. LW, p. 195

    Isn't it a pity that one got lost! Or maybe I've just not spotted it yet in LSB, but I've looked for it.

  2. MM said...

    What is realistic prayer? My God can do everything I ask, so I ask everything. Tomorrow I may wake up 40 pounds lighter. It could happen. It may not, but it could. I try to start each day by asking: "What is God going to do for me today?" Watch and see.

  3. Mike Baker said...

    This post is very insightful, Pr Hall. Thank you!

    The phrase that you have singled out from morning prayer convicts me. When I say, “...grant that this day we fall into no sin…..but that all our doings, being ordered by Your governance, may be righteous in Your sight,” I find my sinful condition exposed to Almighty God in a very concrete way. If I am honest, I know that I’ll be lucky to get from my bed to the bathroom sink before I mess that up. Most days, by the time I get to the Collect for Grace, I’ve already asked for forgiveness. I find the Collect just as unattainable as the part of the Lord’s Prayer where I boldly say, “...as we forgive those who trespass against us.” How can someone so imperfect be so bold?

    I go back to the Small Catechism. Luther included a similar phrase in his Morning Prayer, "...I pray that You would keep me this day also from sin and every evil, that all my doings and life may please You." There is a duality in Luther’s Morning and Evening Prayer that effects how I look at the point that you raised about the Collect for Grace.

    The Morning Prayer immediately reminds me of the words that I will say later that night at the Evening Prayer, “…I pray that You would forgive me all my sins where I have done wrong…” For me, these two prayers are always bound together and it seems odd to say one without the other. One identifies the holy standard and the other asks for forgiveness when that standard is not reached. They are almost one (very realistic) prayer. In the morning: harsh Law. In the evening: sweet Gospel. In both there is humility and thanksgiving.

    No matter where and how it appears, morning and evening prayer is a petition of total dependency. It is a bold statement of faith, but it is certainly not our boldness. It must be the bold faith that is wrought by the Holy Spirit in Word and Sacrament. The hope lies at the close of the prayer, “through Jesus Christ our Lord,” where the answer to our sinfulness and frailty is nothing less than the all-sufficient work of our High Priest and Mediator. There is nothing that we can do to accomplish what we say here. Pragmatism leaves us hopeless and drives us to plead, “Kyrie eleison! Deliver us from evil!” for who could say such things with any amount of self-confidence?

  4. Anonymous said...

    How interesting, this prayer appears in very similar forms in the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer and in the Daily Roman Missal.

  5. Christine said...

    Oops, that prior post was mine.

  6. Dixie said...

    I loved this. I have also felt a bit squimish when I have prayed that I "may keep this day without sin". But I you have cast a different light on it for me. Thanks for that.

  7. Bosco said...

    For an Anglican a helpful reflection to read

    Bosco
    www.liturgy.co.nz

  8. Christopher D. Hall said...

    Thanks for the kind words, Bosco.