Prayer in a Recession

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I’ve just finished the second draft of a sermon that makes use of a prayer attributed to Augustine of Hippo, the great Western theologian. This prayer is included in the letter from the stated clerk of our Presbyterian General Assembly, Gradye Parsons, to President-elect Barack Obama. Our stated clerk sends such a letter to each President-elect as he (so far, he) prepares for inauguration. Parsons’ letter may be read on Presbyterian News Service here:

The first time I wrote this post, I took up some arguments I have with Augustine or, perhaps more accurately, with developments from Augustine through John Calvin and on through my Reformed Tradition (including the Presbyterian churches). Arguing with Augustine is fine, but I withdrew the post because contention with a great theologian, expressed so briefly as though in passing, comes much too close for my comfort to seeming just a cheap shot, no matter how many years of wrestling lie behind it.

Besides, I want to focus on the tensions of this season in its 2008 realities. We are calling for joyous celebration of life and hope in a time of recession, a season of growing apprehension and doubt about the future. Insecurity and fear underlie all our conversations, meetings, worship services, and holiday preparations. We may tell ourselves we are among the more fortunate, but our anxiety remains. There is good that can be brought out of such a time – if it draws us out from isolation, brings us together, and turns us outward – but the possibilities for developing such good require facing our fears and doubts, not hiding them behind too-gladly proclaimed confidence. Here’s the prayer, whether it really comes from Augustine or not. If anyone can cite its source, I’d like to know.

God of life,
there are days when the burdens we carry
are heavy on our shoulders and weigh us down,
when the road seems dreary and endless,
the skies gray and threatening,
when our lives have no music in them,
and our hearts are lonely,
and our souls have lost their courage.
Flood the path with light,
turn our eyes to where the skies are full of promise;
tune our hearts to brave music;
give us the sense of comradeship
with heroes and saints of every age;
and so quicken our spirits
that we may be able to encourage
the souls of all who journey with us on the road of life,
to your honor and glory. Amen.

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