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.
From the first Sunday Eucharist I attended at Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd here in Hemet over a year ago, I felt welcome and comfortable. That was due in large part to the rector, Pastor Kathleen. She was very cordial and made me feel at ease in the church. Though I have to say I’ve reached the point where I would feel comfortable walking into just about any Episcopal church.
Kathleen is amazing at becoming familiar with people’s strengths and interests and turning those into volunteer opportunities for the church. She very quickly had me writing a couple of articles for the church newsletter. Her energy is unbelievable. I can’t believe how much she accomplishes in the course of a week. Then there are her sermons, which are down-to-earth, practical, and hit close to home.
So what came in the mail last week was completely unexpected. When I saw the envelope from Good Shepherd I didn’t open it right away as I assumed it was simply a giving statement or some such thing and I was busy with other things. When I did open it I discovered a letter from Pastor Kathleen saying that she was retiring and that her last Sunday would be 11 September.
Good Shepherd will be fine. It is a strong, healthy church that has changed rectors before. But I will greatly miss Kathleen and all of her unique qualities.
My parish and a local synagogue are sharing in some services, so tonight I went to Shabbat service, my first time there. Best question of the evening: “Did your family get upset with you when you became Catholic? Did you do it because you got married?” Me: “No, I started out this way. I just seem Jewish because I sort of am.”
—my friend Fran on Facebook
I identify with Fran. I’m not Catholic. I was raised a Methodist and these days I am an Episcopalian. But I do identify.
I have been attracted to Judaism since I was in high school. In college I was happy to be surrounded by so many Jewish classmates. I dated and was very fond of a Jewish woman named Julia during my Claremont Cockroach days. Somehow I managed to not make that relationship work.
In Oklahoma City my first wife Ruth was Jewish. We were married by the Reform rabbi under a chuppah in you back yard. I considered converting. I found the Yom Kippur Kol Nidrei service to be deeply moving. I loved attending Friday evening Shabbat services, but the rabbi made some unkind comments about the New Age movement in a sermon, and seriously ticked off Ruth who was a big time New Ager. My attempts at “But what he was really saying was that…” fell on deaf ears. So that was the end of that.
One time I attended an interfaith panel sponsored by the Oklahoma City Islamic community. I was there to present the perspective of the Unitarian Church, to which I belonged at the time. When I arrived, the host came over to me, extended his hand, and said, “Rabbi Maharam?”
Even today I become somewhat wistful when Yom Kippur nears.
I would not consider converting today. I know where my roots are, and I am where I belong in the Episcopal Church. But, like Fran, I sort of am Jewish.
The Eastern Church has long placed more emphasis on the Incarnation than the Western Church, which early on got caught up in a sort of Platonic spiritualism. I like the perspective Richard Rohr takes on this.
We have created a terrible kind of dualism between the spiritual and the so-called non-spiritual. This dualism is precisely what Jesus came to reveal as a lie. The principle of incarnation proclaims that matter and spirit have never been separate. Jesus came to tell us that these two seemingly different worlds are and always have been one. We just couldn’t see it until God put them together in his one body.
One of the basic tenets of Christianity is the return of Christ. In Eucharistic Prayer A in the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer we say the words:
Christ has died.
Christ is risen.
Christ will come again.
Other denominations use those words and there are similar words in the other Eucharistic prayers in the Book of Common Prayer. But what does “Christ will come again” really mean?
A lot of people over the centuries have taken those words literally. The Apostle Paul initially expected the imminent return of Christ, as his earliest letters attest. His tone changed as time wore on and Christ didn’t show up. Indeed Christ’s failure to return caused a lot of consternation in the early church.
Christ’s non-arrival has failed to deter many people over the centuries, however. Still today people are waiting. I remember after the Six Day War in 1967 my minister at the Methodist church here in Hemet excitedly announced that the Second Coming would now happen at any time.
I’m afraid that such people will continue to be disappointed.
During the season of Easter at Good Shepherd Episcopal, the Prayers of the People were framed by these words set to music:
Love one another as I have loved you.
Care for each other. I have cared for you.
Bear each other’s burdens. Bind each other’s wounds;
so you will know my return.
For me, when we do those things, that is Christ’s return.
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