At Good Shepherd Episcopal here in Hemet most of the acolytes are part of one family. In fact they are siblings. They constitute the entirety of the Sunday School class. There are five of them. The oldest, a girl, started college last fall.
These kids have not had it easy. I don’t know what happened to their mother, but they were initially being raised by their father, I believe. A number of years ago their father committed suicide. The children’s grandmother, Martha, took on the responsibility of raising them. She took the task seriously and made sure that they were active participants at Good Shepherd.
Last week the kids came home from school and discovered their grandmother dead. How shocking can that possibly have been for the youngsters. For the short term the four youngest have an uncle with whom they are able to live. For the long term almost everything is unknown.
Amazingly, the kids were all at church on Sunday, and three of them were acolytes. But maybe not so amazing. Being with their church community is best possible place they could be right now.
The good news is that Good Shepherd is a tight-knit community. I know that whatever the five might need someone in the church will find a way to provide. In fact, based on Father Rob’s comment on Sunday, members of the parish immediately sprang into action on hearing the news.
For right now the best thing I can do is to pray for the family.
Richard of Chichester, 1197-1253, wrote these words that today we know so well from the musical Godspell.
O most merciful Redeemer, friend and brother,
May I know Thee more clearly,
Love Thee more dearly,
Follow Thee more nearly, day by day.
It’s been more than two years since I’ve shared this song, so I think that it is time to do so again, particularly since I’m working on internalizing the words for myself. By the way, the last time I shared the song I used this marvelous studio version from the revival.
I somehow simply of fell into this. I sit in my chair and read the day’s Forward Day by Day meditation. Then I pull out my copy of the marvelous book, 2000 Years of Prayer, which I have owned for more than a decade and a half, and flip to a random page where I read a prayer or two or three.
Simple and straightforward. And so far it’s working.
I have always thought that the serenity prayer as we commonly know it (“God grant me the serenity…”), made popular by 12-step groups, to be rather trite and trivial. That is no doubt due in part to its ubiquity and for me perhaps due also in part to it being shoved at me in my younger, much more impatient days.
Back in March, I wrote about a new serenity prayer written by James Martin, a Jesuit priest. I have kept it framed on my wall since around that time, and I commend it to you. I have recently been thinking about the original, complete serenity prayer, however. It was written by the theologian Reinhold Niebuhr. Given the current political climate and the state of the world in general, I have pulled it out of my electronic archives, and it is now on my study wall directly below the James Martin version. For me it is much more powerful than the oft-repeated version.
For your consideration:
God, give us grace to accept with serenity
the things that cannot be changed,
Courage to change the things
which should be changed,
and the Wisdom to distinguish
the one from the other.
Living one day at a time,
Enjoying one moment at a time,
Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace,
Taking, as Jesus did,
This sinful world as it is,
Not as I would have it,
Trusting that You will make all things right,
If I surrender to Your will,
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life,
And supremely happy with You forever in the next.
I’ve always thought that the serenity prayer as it is normally recited just a tad maudlin and simplistic. The original version was, it is generally but not universally agreed, written by Reinhold Niebuhr. I find it much more meaningful and powerful. You can see it here.
Another version has been around for a few years, but I only discovered it via Facebook in the last several weeks. It’s on the web site The Jesuit Post and it was written by James Martin, SJ. The original post was published 9 November 2012. I reproduce the whole prayer here with some trepidation, as the intellectual property belongs to the Jesuit Post and to Father Martin. But I do reproduce it because, well because I myself need to be reminded of these words.
I love the Malcolm Boyd style Father Martin uses in this prayer.
God, grant me the serenity
to accept the people I cannot change,
which is pretty much everyone,
since I’m clearly not you, God.
At least not the last time I checked.
And while you’re at it, God,
please give me the courage
to change what I need to change about myself,
which is frankly a lot, since, once again,
I’m not you, which means I’m not perfect.
It’s better for me to focus on changing myself
than to worry about changing other people,
who, as you’ll no doubt remember me saying,
I can’t change anyway.
Finally, give me the wisdom to just shut up
whenever I think that I’m clearly smarter
than everyone else in the room,
that no one knows what they’re talking about except me,
or that I alone have all the answers.
grant me the wisdom
to remember that I’m
A New Serenity Prayer © The Jesuit Post, All Rights Reserved
Some months back my church posted the following on Facebook:
Pray as you actually experience life,
rather than as you might wish it to be.
It’s tempting to act as if things are as we would want them to be, and we certainly ought to be focusing on our goals and moving those things forward. At the same time, it’s important to acknowledge where we really are.
Now implementing that, there’s the challenge.
I met with my spiritual director, Linda, last week for the first time since she retired in December. It was good to have the opportunity to (virtually) sit together again. We have been meeting via Facetime since my company closed the campus that housed my cubicle and I’ve been working from home. It was a different experience seeing her in the surroundings of her home rather than the parish, and even stranger seeing her without her clerical collar. But it was wonderful to meet again.
I talked about the loss of Pete Seeger, and the fact that I blogged about San Francisco Chronicle columnist Leah Garchik’s tribute to him.Garchik wrote about his marvelous ability to get his audiences singing, and how people would feel “a little more optimistic about life’s possibilities” after hearing him sing. I certainly do.
One song that Seeger was well known for teaching audiences was “Somos El Barco.” There’s a video of that on my Garchik blog. I told Linda about that song and sang a few bars. I then said that I can’t carry a tune in a bucket, a perception I’ve long had about myself. She said, “You just were carrying a tune.” She told me about seeing Cynthia Bourgeault at a clergy conference, who told her audience that we can all sing, that singing is a different way of knowing, and that we shouldn’t let others tell us that we can’t sing.
She also pointed to the bookshelf behind her, where she told me was a copy of the book by my friend Jane Redmont called When in Doubt, Sing: Prayer in Daily Life, a title I introduced Linda to shortly after we began meeting. The book suggests a wide variety of ways in which one might pray. If you have questions about your own prayer life, take a look. At more than 400 pages there is almost certainly to be a method of prayer there that works for you. The title comes from a chapter near the end of the book that discusses music as prayer.
Linda mentioned the phrase attributed to Augustine, “When we sing, we pray twice,” which is also an epigraph to that chapter in Jane’s book. Based on that session, I feel a little better about singing in private. Still, there are some deeply ingrained inhibitions there. They go back to sixth grade at Hemet Elementary when we had a roving music teacher. She came to our class perhaps every two weeks. She would walk over to me, lean over my shoulder, and not like what she heard. I was never able to make adjustments to satisfy her.
Indeed, my cat Clea of blessed memory never liked my singing. When Terry and I would sing she would glare at us with a very clear message of, “No singing.” Think of Shrek in the original movie saying to the Eddie Murphy donkey character, “Don’t sing!” Even Tasha gave me an annoyed look the other day when I was singing a couple of lines.
This is, nonetheless, perhaps a small start to a new relationship with singing.