Friday, June 15, 2012

The Book of Common Prayer

Today I rummaged in a thrift store, and for my troubles, left with a tiny treasury.

The Book of Common Prayer has floated around since the 1500s and anything that old, sitting on a shelf with a $1 price tag, must come home.

This book grabbed at the historical writer in me. It's one of the major works of English Literature and since its introduction in the sixteenth century, has wielded enormous influence on almost everything written in English. Even after many revisions, people still utter its words when they marry in traditional wedding ceremonies. With prayers for every day and season of life, many generations have carried it with them over the centuries. They've leafed through and dipped into it as often as you and I might glance at our iPhones. And if you were to stack the two in the palm of your hand, you'd find they are the same size.

The Book of Common Prayer

Imagine a time when people were born and died at home. Where life didn't veer too far from the village walls and where people stood beside their neighbour when they laboured in life and death. There are prayers in this book for all of that. For marriage, baptism and burial. Words for the penitent heart and the ministrations of the sick. Prayers of thanksgiving for the birth or adoption of children.

And then imagine those who did move beyond the boundary of home. There's a whole chapter in this book for those At Sea. As a writer of stories inspired by those who crossed oceans to fashion new lives in Australia, this chapter captured my heart. Listen for the whispered prayer a young woman sent to marry a stranger, might offer as she watches for the horizon. Or the ship's captain, as dawn breaks on yet another day.

The language is old, but the message is not diminished for me. For who hasn't lived through an uncertain journey, and longed for God to deliver them to a safe harbour?

Eternal Lord God
Who alone spreadest out the heavens,
And rulest the raging of the sea:
Who has compassed the waters with bounds
Until day and night come to an end.
Be pleased to receive into thy Almighty, 
And most gracious protection,
The person of us thy servants,
And the fleet in which we serve.
Preserve us from the dangers of the sea
And from the violence of the enemy ...
That the inhabitants of our Island,
May in peace and quietness serve thee O God,
And that we may return in safety,
To enjoy the blessings of the land,
With the fruits of our labours,
And with a thankful remembrance,
Of thy mercies, to praise and glorify
Thy holy name, through Jesus Christ
Our Lord.  Amen.

I love how this prayer ends with the desire to remember God for who He is and what He's done. There's so much encouragement in this little treasure to keep praise for Him on our lips. At every turn, morning and evening. Wherever the reader may be in time... I hope that's where you are today. Thankful and mindful.

The Book of Common Prayer in dusty blue,
atop my grandmother's Greek New Testament. 

Do you have a pre-loved antique book on the shelf? Something you're the custodian of, now it's previous owner has passed it onto you?

Here's someone who will have a new book on her shelf.  Congratulations, Rachelle Rea. You're the winner of our Ink Dots giveaway, Two Crosses by Elizabeth Musser. Happy reading and a wonderful weekend to all.