June 21, 2014


Praying With Samuel Johnson (DANIEL J. HEISEY, 6/20/14, Saint Austin Review : Ink Desk)

In 1765 Johnson composed a prayer for his intellectual life:  "Almighty God, the giver of wisdom, without whose help resolutions are in vain, without whose blessings study is ineffectual; enable me, if it be thy will, to attain such knowledge as may qualify me to direct the doubtful, and instruct the ignorant; to prevent wrongs, and terminate contentions; and grant that I may use that knowledge which I shall attain, to thy glory and my own salvation, for Jesus Christ's sake.  Amen." [...]

A day or so before he died, Johnson composed and recited this prayer before receiving Holy Communion:  "Almighty and most merciful Father, I am now as to human eyes it seems, about to 
commemorate, for the last time, the death of thy Son Jesus Christ, our Saviour and Redeemer.  Grant, O Lord, that my whole hope and confidence may be in repentance; make this commemoration available to the confirmation of my faith, the establishment of my hope, and the enlargement of my charity; and make the death of thy Son Jesus Christ effectual to my redemption.  Have mercy upon me, and pardon the multitude of my offences.  Bless my friends; have mercy upon all men.  Support me, by thy Holy Spirit, in the days of weakness, and at the hour of death; and receive me, at my death, to everlasting happiness, for the sake of Jesus Christ.  Amen."

Some people today may find such wording old-fashioned to the point of being obsolete.  Moreover, the sense of sinfulness conveyed by Johnson's balanced clauses may seem as quaint and archaic as the Georgian proportions of Colonial Williamsburg.  Since the old principle is to pray as one can, not as one cannot, then private prayers that leave one cold by seeming pompous and worthless ought to be avoided.

For others, though, his prayers may be just what they long have needed.  Johnson's prayers will thus nourish someone starving for richer fare and sustain an appetite reared on sturdy steak and ale English prose from around 1600 that makes recent religious and even biblical prose seem as bland as a block of tofu and a bottle of Evian.

Posted by at June 21, 2014 7:43 AM

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