There’s a misleading subtitle on a wonderful new book, “Acceptable Words: Prayers for the Writer”; although writers are certainly the target audience, the collection isn’t just for writers, it’s for anyone.
Prayers come from a wide-ranging list, names you know and names you’ve more than likely never heard. There’s Thomas Merton and G.K. Chesterton, e.e. cummings and Bernard of Cluny, Thomas Aquinas, Jane Austen, John Donne, T.S. Eliot, Henri Nouwen, John Henry Newman, Alexsandr Solzhenitsyn and so many more.
But there’s also American poet Otto Selles and novelist Sandy Tritt, South African political activist Joe Seremane, Luci Shaw, Macrina Wiederkehr, Frank Topping, William J. Vande Kopple and Scott Hoezee.
Though they pray from different eras and in many different styles, a base of belief undergirds them all. As editors Gary D. Schmidt and Elizabeth Stickney note, “These are the prayers of those who love words and who love God’s world and who love the ways in which the words and the world may come together. These prayers are acts of devotion, are expressions of frustration, are pleas for hope and understanding.”
Hoezee, a minister and theologian, penned a few of those that spoke to me. In one, for example, he asks the Lord:
Help me listen to the ordinary things people tell me. Make me attend to how they speak and to the yearnings of their hearts that emerge in such daily conversations. If I need fresh language and new metaphors, let them emerge from the ordinary as well as from the extraordinary so that the words I wrote may, must so, speak strength and grace into the commonplace of people’s lives.
Topping, a methodist minister and playwright, prayed one of those that non-writers will find of value:
Lord Jesus, write your truth in my mind, your joy in my heart, and your love in my life, that filled with truth, possessed by joy, and living in love, your integrity, your humor, and your compassion might be born in me again.
Artists of all kinds will appreciate these lines from Dag Hammarskjold, the late United Nations’ general secretary:
Thou takest the pen — and the lines dance. Thou takest the flute‚ and the notes shimmer. Thou takest the brush and the colors sing. So all things have meaning and beauty in that space beyond time where Thou art. How, then, can I hold back anything from Thee?
There are dozens just as meaningful and touching as these, prayers by Dom Helder Camara, by Rainer Maria Rilke, by the ancient composers of the psalms.
Schmidt and Stickney have organized them into eight categories with teasing introductions to each that will whet your appetite to dive into the batch of prayers that follow.
The writers’ way with words glistens in nearly every single one. Some are more formal and pietistic, some more earth-bound and in everyday language. You’ll find many you’ll want to pray over and over, but let me share just one more example from this Eerdmans paperback ($16). It’s credited to the conference of European Churches:
Lord God, we have given more weight to our successes and our happiness than to your will.
We have eaten without a thought for the hungry.
We have spoken without an effort to understand others.
We have kept silence instead of telling the truth.
We have judged others, forgetful that you alone are the judge.
We have acted rather in accordance with our opinions than according to your commands.
Within your church we have been slow to practice love of our neighbors.
And in the world we have not been your faithful servants.
Forgive us and help us to live as disciples of Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Savior. Amen.