A Prayer for the Nation

Thank you pastor John D’Elia for sharing Habakkuk 1:2-5 on your FB page.

How long, O LORD, will I call for help,
And You will not hear?
I cry out to You, “Violence!”
Yet You do not save.

Why do You make me see iniquity,
And cause me to look on wickedness?
Yes, destruction and violence are before me;
Strife exists and contention arises.

Therefore the law is ignored
And justice is never upheld.
For the wicked surround the righteous;
Therefore justice comes out perverted.

“Look among the nations! Observe!
Be astonished! Wonder!
Because I am doing something in your days—
You would not believe if you were told.

Robert George: A Christian Scholar on the Spiritual Disciplines

Confessing History Available for Pre-OrderAs many of you know, I am very interested in the ways that my Christian faith informs what I do as a scholar, historian, and teacher.  Back in 2011 I joined my friends Jay Green and Eric Miller in editing Confessing History: Explorations in Christian Faith and the Historian’s Vocation. My book Why Study History?: Reflecting on the Importance of the Past has a couple of chapters that reflect my interest in the integration of faith and history.

If I get a chance to continue writing about faith and the academic vocation I would like to explore the way that spiritual practices or spiritual “disciplines” might inform the work of Christian scholars. (Perhaps such a study might revive my own inconsistent efforts at engaging in these practices).

So much of the conversation on faith and scholarship, at least in the field of history, revolves around Christian epistemology, philosophy, or theology.  It is driven largely by those Christians who associate with the Reformed Protestant tradition.  In Confessing History we tried to push this conversation away from the epistemological questions long associated with what Douglas Sweeney has called the “Calvin School” of Christian historiography, and into the area of calling/vocation and practice.

It seems like there could be a third way of thinking about connecting faith with history. We know how Christian theology and philosophy inform the presuppositions of believing historians.  We are starting to learn, thanks to the authors in Confessing History, about how believing historians might practice their craft as scholars, teachers, and public scholars.   But we don’t have a lot of work on how things like prayer, fasting, Bible reading, and other spiritual disciplines might influence our work.  (I discussed this a bit in Why Study History?, but a good place to start is A.G. Sertillanges, The Intellectual Life: Its Spirit, Conditions, and Methods).

I was thus very encouraged and inspired today reading Kevin Spinale’s interview with Robert George, the McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence at Princeton University and one of America’s leading Catholic intellectuals. George talks to Spinale about how the spiritual practices of his Catholic faith informs his work as a scholar, teaching, and public intellectual.

Here is just a small taste:

Prof. George, how do you pray?


Robert George

On my knees, the old-fashioned way—not always, but I do find that being on one’s knees in a posture of prayer facilitates trying to remove oneself from all of one’s cares and concerns. It’s valuable to remove oneself from one’s normal routines and put oneself in the presence of God for that conversation. So, to me the posture matters. Of course, one can’t always be on one’s knees.

I often pray when I am driving, for example, if I am alone. I like to pray with people, a lot, with friends—some of whom are Catholic, some of whom are not. I am happy to pray with just about anyone who wants to pray. But there is something special about—especially at the end of the day—being on one’s knees before God, in that posture and praying.

Is there a particular text or devotion that you ordinarily use to initiate or shape prayer?

That can vary extraordinarily widely. Sometimes it is petitionary prayer: something I am concerned about; something that I want to ask for God’s help with, assistance with, blessing upon. It might be a person; it might be a cause; or it might be an event. Often, I find myself praying for help in thinking things through, trying to discern what I am supposed to be doing.

It is difficult for me and I have to make an effort at this, but I try to remember the importance of prayers of praise in addition to petitionary prayer. That is something I have to discipline myself to do; otherwise I find myself always in the asking mode. It is very easy. I do not have to think much about petitionary prayer.

It is very easy if I feel or judge there to be a need—I find myself very easily moving into prayer to ask for God’s help with that need. But I recognize that it is very important to give God the praise he is due, and I have to discipline myself to remember to do that. It does not come as immediately or effortlessly as petitionary prayer.

I like the old-fashioned forms of prayer, although I do not restrict myself to them. The rosary is great—praying the rosary is valuable. The traditional forms of prayer that I was taught when I was a boy, what we Catholics call the Our Father, the Hail Mary, the Glory Be, I still say all those prayers—the guardian angel prayer, I still say all those prayers.

In part, I like these traditional prayers because of their simplicity. Jesus said that we are supposed to be childlike in our faith, and those prayers are prayers that are prayed by children as well as adults. We learned them as children, most of us, and they continue with us in our adult life. We should never regard ourselves as too sophisticated for these prayers. Saying those prayers is a help in maintaining the kind of faith that Jesus said we should have: the faith of those little children who were clamoring to get onto Jesus’s lap, whom the disciples were trying to shoo away—Jesus says, “No, no, no, let them come. … Your faith should be like their faith.” [Mark 10:13-16]

Read the entire interview here, including George’s thoughts on vocation, suffering, spiritual desolation, and Catholic higher education.

Maryland County Commissioner Prays Bogus George Washington Prayer

George did not chop down the cherry either

A federal judge recently ruled that the Carroll County, Maryland Board of Commissioners would not be allowed, at least temporarily, to start their meetings with a sectarian prayer.  The order, however, did not stop Robin Bartlett Frazier, one of the commissioners, from praying a very Christian prayer at a recent budget meeting.  Frazier saw the prayer as an act of civil disobedience, saying that “she was willing to go to jail” to fight the judge’s ruling.  (The ruling, by the way, was a temporary one.  The judge asked the commissioners to refrain from sectarian prayer until a lawsuit on public prayers at meetings of the Board of Commissioners could be decided).

Frazier claimed that the prayer she prayed came from George Washington. I assume that she felt that if she prayed a prayer by Washington she would be sending the message that America was founded on Christian principles.  How could a federal court condemn a prayer by George Washington?

Unfortunately, Washington never uttered this prayer.  It comes from a bogus prayer book that has been wrongly attributed to the first president.  The Carroll County Times asked me to help clarify the whole situation.  Here is a taste of their coverage:

The "Serenity Prayer" in Context

Reinhold Niebuhr penned “The Serenity Prayer”

Ray Haberski Jr. thinks that Reinhold Niebuhr’s “Serenity Prayer” might be useful in the midst of today’s culture wars.  Here is a taste:

In conversations with my friends and colleagues, with my students and family and (to the concern of my daughter) with the radio, I stumbled to find some solace amidst the storm of stupidity that seemed to defy politics and logic. And when I stumble I usually look to Reinhold Niebuhr. In our recent times of war, Niebuhr’s The Irony of American History (1952) struck me as a necessary antidote to hubris and unjustified violence. In our recent time of stupidity, I found Niebuhr’s prayer for humility—also know as the Serenity Prayer—quite helpful: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.”
This simple prayer has been made popular through its adoption by 12-step programs, especially Alcoholics Anonymous. But Niebuhr originally wrote it to reflect upon the Great Depression and the Second World War. While there has been some contention over the origins of the prayer, it seems fairly clear now that Niebuhr is its author.
Niebuhr’s daughter Elisabeth Sifton writes about his sentiments in her book The Serenity Prayer: Faith and Politics in a Time of War and Peace. “It reminds us of the virtues we must call upon in our private lives,” she observes, “and it also concerns the qualities needed to act in the intricate social networks that connect us to each other.” Thankfully, we are not stricken with the cataclysms of Niebuhr’s time, but surely this prayer offers perspective on both the inability of our national leaders to act like leaders and the capacity of the country—meaning the rest of us—to continue despite such an impasse.
The image of Niebuhr being calm and resolute in the face of tragedy is popular but somewhat simplistic. Recently, I’ve found new meaning in Niebuhr’s relationship to the spirit of that prayer as I’ve learned to see that relationship with some irony—a notion Niebuhr would surely appreciate. 
“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.”