An American Prayer Book – II

In the early stages of compiling An American Prayer Book, I offered it to a major publisher thinking it would have broad appeal. Eventually an editor wrote to say, “We think the climate is not right for this book at the present time.”

Puzzled by that, I wrote to ask exactly what she meant and got a response that said in part, “I fear that a whole book of prayers for America seems likely to evoke the image of the nation as a ‘City upon a Hill.’ What would be your reaction to a book of prayers specifically for, say, Germany?”

That left me speechless. I think Germany might well benefit by some prayer, as might most countries. The attitude, as I interpreted it, seemed to be, “The Radical Right might pray for America, but politically correct people would shun the idea.”

Has it come to that? Has the Radical Right so identified itself with God that there is no room for others to have faith? If so, it’s tragic.

There are prayers in this book from a variety of perspectives but none that identifies America with God and many that speak of our country’s failings and ask forgiveness and new direction. Absalom Jones’ prayer of thanksgiving for the end of the slave trade two hundred years ago needs only modest editing to be a useful prayer for social justice today (and the book offers that as well as the original). Walter Rauschenbusch’s prayer for immigrants is as relevant today as it was when he wrote it a century ago. Billy Graham’s inauguration day prayers never failed to ask forgiveness for our failures as a nation.

I am happy to use the “L” word, Liberal, to describe my politics and believe my views are firmly based on Scriptural imperatives. I am as shocked as anyone when an American general speaks of the Gulf Wars as a crusade against infidels. In praying for America, I pray that we will be on God’s side, not that God will side with us. I hope that Liberals and Conservatives alike will pray for God’s will to be done in this year’s election. I hope the Conservatives will be disappointed if those prayers are answered. I pray that the regular use of the prayers in this new book will move us past our present narrow perspectives. And I am even naive enough to believe that John Winthrop’s vision of this nation as a shining “city upon a hill” is still valid – and remains a warning rather than a smug conceit:

“For we must consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill. The eyes of all people are upon us. So that if we shall deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken… we shall be made a story and a by-word throughout the world. We shall open the mouths of enemies to speak evil of the ways of God…. If our heartes shall turne away soe that wee will not obey, but shall be seduced and worship other Gods our pleasures, and profits, and serve them, it is propounded unto us this day, wee shall surely perish out of the good Land whether wee passe over this vast Sea to possess it.”

1 Comment

NatalieOctober 7th, 2008 at 6:18 am

Good morning. I was searching for Robert Frost’s poem about Nature’s First Green, and I have come across your blog.
It’s nice to *meet* you. I very much enjoyed this post, and your thoughts on prayer… I am intrigued to realize that you are correct about the
Radical Right… I have surrendered my faith because I don’t want to be associated with them, and I would have rolled my eyes at the
sight of “An American Prayer Book” (shamelessly judging books by their covers!) Now that I have read your purpose and intentions, now that I see
it from your point of view, I am encouraged. And how timely this is, when my faith and hopes are so dashed and fractured.
Thank you.

Leave a comment

Your comment