I consider myself fortunate to have been brought up fully bilingually, speaking Welsh to my mother and English to my father. At that time they were concerned that I would get confused and make a single language of both! By now we know that this is the easiest way to learn languages and it seems to be the sooner the better and the more the merrier!
The only downside for me was when I was asked what is my mother tongue? For many years I really did not know how to answer that question, and the answer was only revealed to me when I was training to the priesthood. When it came to the Lord’s Prayer we were invited to recite the words “in the language of your hearts”. I always pray the Lord’s Prayer as well as express my personal prayers through the medium of Welsh. And that was my answer, the language of my heart, the language which I use to communicate with God is Welsh, and that then is my mother tongue.
I touched on some aspects of prayer last week and I hope that you will forgive me for returning to it this week. It is a very important subject, our Masonic meetings open and close with prayer, prayer features prominently in our ceremonies, and at the Festive Board we offer grace and sometimes return grace.
Our formal, set prayers like much of the ritual are beautifully crafted words of poetry addressed to the Supreme Being. Words which ask His blessing and give thanks for the blessings we have received. Words which recognise our absolute dependence as frail creatures on our Creator and Sustainer. Words which keep us firmly grounded and rooted in our human condition and elevate Him as the omniscient, omnipotent One.
In both secular and religious poetry many great prayers have been penned. For Christians the Lord’s Prayer is a prayer for every occasion, even when no other words are forthcoming. We find numerous examples in the Old Testament, such as the prayer of King David we find in the Second Book of Samuel which ends with these words:
“Lord Almighty, God of Israel, you have revealed this to your servant, saying, ‘I will build a house for you.’ So your servant has found courage to pray this prayer to you. Sovereign Lord, you are God! Your covenant is trustworthy, and you have promised these good things to your servant. Now be pleased to bless the house of your servant, that it may continue forever in your sight; for you, Sovereign Lord, have spoken, and with your blessing the house of your servant will be blessed forever.”
A particular favourite of mine is the so-called Prayer of St Francis of Assisi:
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace; where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; and where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood, as to understand; to be loved, as to love; for it is in giving that we receive, it is in pardoning that we are pardoned, and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life. Amen.
We are fortunate to have such a treasury of prayers which enable us to communicate with the Supreme Being. But there is a danger I think that we come to believe that God can only be addressed in such highfalutin language, which is clearly not right. Remember the instruction that Jesus Christ have to his followers before giving them the words of the Lord’s Prayer, “do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”
Prayer does not have to have any words at all, a thought, a gesture, an act can all be prayers. Anything offered in the right spirit is acceptable to God, the one who hears and sees our prayers. It’s important that none of us are discouraged from praying because we don’t believe that we know what to say. Prayer is the word we use for the way we communicate with God, and as we know today there are so many different ways we can communicate with each other, and the same is true of God.
To paraphrase Maureen Lipman in that BT advert from so many years ago, ‘it’s good to communicate’! With each other and with God. We may think of prayer to God as a soliloquy, but communicating with God is a conversation. As we communicate with God so God communicates with us. As the Christian Church in the east draws nearer to the end of Easter, last Thursday being Ascension and next Sunday being Pentecost, we are reminded that God has not deserted us and let us get on with it. No, God is always with us, to the end of the age. The more we communicate with God so we become more aware of his real presence with us all the time.
This great hymn by James Montgomery (1771-1854) expresses what I am trying to say far more eloquently, but it doesn’t stop me from trying in my second language…!
1. Prayer is the soul's sincere desire,
Unuttered or expressed,
The motion of a hidden fire
That trembles in the breast.
2. Prayer is the burden of a sigh,
The falling of a tear,
The upward glancing of an eye
When none but God is near.
3. Prayer is the simplest form of speech
That infant lips can try;
Prayer the sublimest strains that reach
The Majesty on high.
4. Prayer is the contrite sinner’s voice,
Returning from their way,
While angels in their songs rejoice
And cry, "Behold, he prays!"
5. Prayer is the Christian’s vital breath,
The Christian’s native air;
His watchword at the gates of death;
He enters heaven with prayer.
6. O thou, by whom we come to God,
The Life, the Truth, the Way,
The path of prayer thyself hast trod;
Lord, teach us how to pray.