Somehow, spontaneous prayer seemed more "real." Then I began to get weary of it. For one thing, spontaneous prayer is so subjective. Only topics of immediate interest get prayed about. God is sort of a divine order-taker, and there's no comment about any of His attributes or characteristics. If a friend gets healed, God gets thanked, but that's about it. And a lot of prayers are definitely sketchy, asking God to do things that are either mutually exclusive or maybe downright contrary to what the Bible says God does. Then there's the language. It gets repetitive. Extremely. This post from The Holy Observer, God's #1 Source for Christian News really nails the problem of the "just" prayer.
So we're back to composed prayer, right? And, at least for public prayer, what's wrong with figuring out in advance what I want to say?
The Collect: Not Just for EpiscopaliansEnter the Prayer Book. It's full of prayers, some of which have been simmering for centuries. Lots of these prayers are a thing called a "Collect," which is a very compact, well-refined format. It's almost a haiku. Here's how the Anglican Studies Department at St. Paul University (Canada) defines it:
- Invocation. This is associated with an understanding of some quality of God upon which the prayer is built. Because God is a certain kind of God, we are bold to pray for this or that thing.
- Petition. This constitutes the body of the prayer, and is its central point.
- Aspiration. This is what we hope to receive from the petition.
- Ascription. Ordinarily this is "through Jesus Christ our Lord," though this may be modified for the sake of rhythm and variation. The full form is Trinitarian.
- Eternal God, who by a star led wise men to the worship of your Son,
- guide by your light the nations of the earth,
- that the whole world may know your glory;
- through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.
Now for the singingI once sang a solo in church. It was in 1976, and it went badly. However, for reasons that I will never understand, someone at St. Matthew's thought I would be a good cantor. (Note: the word is canting, not chanting. Episcopal chant is something different.)
This is working out well. Canting is mainly monotone, so if I can find B flat, I'm good to go. The interesting thing is that the melody is governed by the content, so each of the four parts of a collect has its own tune. Pretty cool. And to make things even easier, there really are only a couple of tunes, and you repeat them. I think I might be able to do this.