FOR MANY YEARS after my conversion I never used any ready-made forms except the Lord’s Prayer. In fact, I tried to pray without words at all
– not to verbalize the mental acts. Even in praying for others I believe I tended to avoid their names and substituted mental images of them. I still think the prayer without words is the best – if one can really achieve it. But I now see that in trying to make it my daily bread I was counting on a greater mental and spiritual strength than I really have. To pray successfully without words one needs to be “at the top of one’s form.” Otherwise the mental acts become merely imaginative or emotional acts – and a fabricated emotion is a miserable affair. When the golden moments come, when God enables one really to pray without words, who but a fool would reject the gift? But He does not give it – anyway not to me – day in, day out. My mistake was what Pascal, if I remember rightly, calls “Error of Stoicism”; thinking we can do always what we can do sometimes….
For me words are . . . secondary. They are only an anchor. Or, shall I say, they are the movements of a conductor’s baton: not the music. They serve to canalize the worship, or penitence, or petition, which might without them – such are our minds – spread into wide and shallow puddles. It does not matter very much who first put them together. If they are our own words they will soon, by unavoidable repetition, harden into a formula. If they are someone else’s, we shall continually pour into them our own meaning.
At present – for one’s practice changes and, I think, ought to change – I find it best to make “my own words” the staple but introduce a modicum of the ready-made. . . . .
Perhaps I shan’t find it so easy to persuade you that the ready-made modicum has . . . its use: for me, I mean – I’m not suggesting rules for anyone else in the world.
First, it keeps me in touch with “sound doctrine.” Left to one’s self, one could easily slide away from “the faith once given” into a phantom called “my religion.”
Secondly, it reminds me “what things I ought to ask” (perhaps especially when I am praying for other people). The crisis of the present moment, like the nearest telegraph post, will always loom largest. Isn’t there a danger that our great, permanent, objective necessities – often more important – may get crowded out?
Finally, they provide an element of the ceremonial. – The Joyful Christian