For special occasions, my father sometimes took our family to the Otesaga — a hotel known for its fine dining — for their Sunday brunch. The food is amazing and bountiful. Tables of fresh fruit and salads. Chafing dishes filled with a variety hot foods. At least two carving stations. Shrimp. Cheese. Omelets made to order. Dessert tables laden with pies and cakes. All of it a feast for the eyes as well as the body. On one particular day, however, one of my brothers walked up and down all those tables of food and finally came back to our table with a single piece of Key Lime pie.
“There’s nothing good to eat,” he said.
In retrospect, I wonder if it was the wide variety, and the possible scariness of trying something new that led to this pronouncement.
We like what we know, and I am the queen of I-hate-change.
With prayer, all I had really known in my faith walk was conversational prayer made up mostly of my own words. C. S. Lewis, in his book Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer, talks about introducing “a modicum of the ready-made.” When I turned my attention to a deeper prayer life, I knew it was time to take the plunge into that ready-made.
Praying old words, some written centuries ago, felt awkward at first, but I began with some of the prayers from The Book of Common Prayer. Then someone mailed me a copy of A Diary of Private Prayer by John Baillie. I started picking up prayer books at used bookstores, library sales, yard sales, thrift stores — wherever I could find them.
I tried out different prayers much the way we may try new foods at a buffet.
Since those early days of somewhat stilted reading of prayers, I’ve arrived at a mix of fluid and static. The fluid part is made up of my own words; the static — which provide the structure and guide the direction — are prayers I’ve gathered.
Over the next few posts, I’ll share some of the books that have been my personal favorites.
But to get you started, I’ll leave you with a 400 year old prayer from Lancelot Andrewes. I have a hand-lettered copy of it done by Jennifer Trafton hanging over my desk.
Within me to strengthen me;
Without me to guard me;
Over me to shelter me;
Beneath me to establish me;
Before me to guide me;
After me to forward me;
Round about me to secure me.