The Collect read in church on July 16
O Lord, mercifully receive the prayers of your people who call upon you, and grant that they may know and understand what things they ought to do, and also may have grace and power faithfully to accomplish them; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.
These days, Monday Matters offers reflections on the prayers we say in church on Sunday, the collect of the day. We do this based on the conviction that praying shapes our believing, that what we pray forms us. We do this hoping that the prayers we say on Sunday will carry us through the week.
Truth be told, we wouldn’t pray yesterday’s collect (above) if we weren’t somewhat clueless. Printed below that collect, I’ve included the popular prayer about unknowing, written by Thomas Merton. I’m guessing that its popularity springs from the fact that we all know something about not knowing where we’re headed. Accordingly, we ask for help, that we might know and understand what to do, and know how to accomplish.
My first instinct is to challenge the collect. The fact is, we know what to do. It’s clear in scripture. Micah puts it this way: He has told you, O mortal, what is good, and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice and to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6.8) Very clear. Maybe not easy, but clear. Jesus said the greatest commandment was to love God and neighbor. Most religious traditions have some version of the Golden Rule, which is to do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Rabbi Hillel famously said that all the other commandments are just commentary on that one rule. We might add to that the Hippocratic Oath, which I’ve often asked Sunday School teachers to embrace: Do no harm. What we ought to do seems to be spelled out pretty clearly.
G.K.Chesterton said: The problem with Christianity is not that it has been tried and found wanting, but that it has been found difficult and left untried. The Nike slogan comes to mind: Just do it. I laughed when I saw a t-shirt on a person who maybe had eaten a few too many cheeseburgers. It showed the Nike logo upside down with the words: Don’t want to.
We may know what we ought to do. But it is entirely possible we may not understand what we ought to do. The kind of life to which we are called, the kind of love we are called to show, may be beyond comprehension. Grace is truly amazing. As the hymn speaks of the wideness of God’s mercy, the hymn text says that the love of God is broader than the measure of our minds. In the course of our lives, we rarely experience the kind of unconditional love we are called to know and show. We come to life, to our relationships with mixed motives, with the underlying question: What’s in it for me? So maybe we do need help to know and understand what that love looks like.
And if we need help with that kind of understanding, we most certainly need help accomplishing it, in putting it to work. Where do we find that help? For starters, it’s worth noting that we can’t do it on our own. When we commit to the promises of the baptismal covenant (another place where it’s stated pretty clearly what we are to do. See page 304 in the Book of Common Prayer), we say that we will with God’s help. That help may come in our communities. On a good day, we can find help in the body of Christ, in the church.
I invite you to see how you can live this prayer, yesterday’s collect, in your life this week. Consider what you are being called to do. Is that clear to you? Where does the call to love God and neighbor intersect with your circumstances, with your daily rhythm? What are the opportunities to put love to work in your world? And then ask for the grace to accomplish that, to live into that call. Seek that grace from the one from whose love we can never be separated.