Praying with our Ancestors: A Prayer for Truth

ACU Library hosts a weekly chapel for our students, student workers, faculty and staff. I was asked to pray in last week’s assembly. I chose to draw from the well of our history rather than bring a word of spontaneous prayer. I reflected on what we are trying to do in the library, not just the tasks we perform, but a core reason for our existence at the heart of the university’s life and mission. I reflected on what we are trying to accomplish in a weekly gathering of students and faculty. I reflected on why we collect and steward information resources in our spaces, why and how our community uses these resources, and to what ends. I then spent some time with J. H. Garrison.

As is the case with most of my friends, Garrison has been dead a good long while. But while he was among the living he contributed mightily to the devotional spirit of the Stone-Campbell movement. Arguably his Alone With God is the classic work on the inner devotional life.  He wasn’t the only one who tried to develop this sense among us, and you’ll have to gauge for yourself whether he even did it well, but every time I read him I’m better for it.

My reflections about the nature of our work in our space converged with Garrison’s prayer for truth.

Living as we do in a world charmed by lies, half-truths, near-truths, and spin, I think it wise to pause for a moment and pray for truth.  Living as we do in a context rife with passive-aggression, innuendo, rhetorical slight of hand, I think it wise to pause and pray and seek truth.  Living and working in a community of scholars, nearly every last thing we do is a search for truth: we research, we investigate, we experiment, we hypothesize, we inquire, we discover, we assess, we interpret.  It is good for us along this way to gather and pray for truth.

James Harvey Garrison’s ‘Prayer for Truth’* in Alone With God** (St. Louis: Christian Publishing Company, 1891), 151:

O God, the God of truth, mercifully grant that the Holy Spirit of Truth may rule our hearts, grafting therein love of truth, and making us in all our thoughts and words and works, to study, speak, and follow truth, that we may be sincere before all people, and blameless before Thee.  May no unworthy prejudice or sectarian pride prevent us from accepting whatever bears the divine impress of Thy truth.  May we love the truth, know the truth, and be made free by the truth; for His sake who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and in whom is no guile, even Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen!

*I adapted Garrison’s pronouns.  I changed them from singular to plural and where he prayed to be ‘blameless before men’, I prayed ‘blameless before all people.’

**Read the first edition here or purchase a new edition here.

This post is co-published at Charis, an online space for conversations of and about Churches of Christ.

Lean on virtue’s side: An early-morning reflection on Alexander Campbell

Good morning, an early morning reflection…

The quote above is from pages 440-441 of Silena Huntington Campbell’s book Home Life and Reminiscences of Alexander Campbell. She is reflecting on her husband’s (Alexander Campbell) personality and disposition and she has some rather wonderful things to say.  Look at him…consistent, calm, just.  She paints a flattering portrait.

At the same time, (irony or ironies) Alexander no doubt was correct and just in his estimation of her….that she could not see his faults.  I doubt he was always just and he wasn’t always consistent…he wasn’t, you aren’t and I’m not.  But her statement is significant nonetheless.

Hagiographical as it may be…no doubt he failed in life to live up to her memories of him…her description of him is a fine starting place for anyone interested in civil, respectful and charitable discourse.  If his own wife is to be trusted, Alexander Campbell is a worthy model of a Christian who valued consistency and the integration in his own daily life the truth of what he said he believed with what he actually did.

I hope your day is characterized by fairness and justice, consistency and integrity, and if it isn’t I hope your conduct will mirror the best of what Alexander Campbell tried to do and be and that in so doing you will bring these values to the injustice, irrationality, inconsistency and bankruptcy of your situation.

The Sayings of the Fathers on reading Scripture

The nature of water is soft, that of a rock is hard. But if a narrow-necked bottle is hung above a stone, drop by drop the water wears away the rock. So it is with the word of God: it is soft and our heart is hard. But when a person hears the word of God, often then his heart is opened to the fear of God.

The Apophthegmata Patrum (the Sayings of the Fathers) is a collection of proverbs and quotes from 4th-5th c. monks.   This quote is from Everett Ferguson, Inheriting Wisdom, Readings for Today from Ancient Christian Writers. Peabody: Hendrickson, 2004, page 229.

Gregory the Great on reading Scripture

Holy Scripture is presented to the mind’s eye as a kind of mirror so that our inner appearance can be seen in it. In this mirror we recognize both the ugliness and the beauty of our soul. We can tell what progress we are making, or see our utter lack of progress…The virtues of people in the Bible may support our hope, and their faults may clothe us with the protection of humility. The former, through the joy they cause, give our spirits wings; the latter, by causing fear, put a check on our actions. By listening to Scripture the soul learns both the confidence of hope and the humility of fear.

Gregory, a moral theologian, was Bishop of Rome from 590-604. This quote is from Everett Ferguson, Inheriting Wisdom, Readings for Today from Ancient Christian Writers. Peabody: Hendrickson, 2004, page 229.

Basil of Caesarea on reading Scripture

The best way to discover our duty is to study the divinely inspired Scriptures, for in them we find both instructions about conduct and the lives of blessed men, delivered in writing. They are laid before us like having images of the godly life for the imitation of their good works. When we devote ourselves to the imitation of what is offered there, we find the appropriate medicine for whatever deficiency or illness we feel we have, as from a pharmacy.

Basil was Bishop of Caesarea in Cappadocia from 370-379. This quote is from Everett Ferguson, Inheriting Wisdom, Readings for Today from Ancient Christian Writers. Peabody: Hendrickson, 2004, pages 228-229.

Origen on reading Scripture

You then, my true son, give primary attention to reading the divine Scriptures. Be attentive: for we must be attentive when reading the things of God, so that we not say or think anything too reckless about them…Being attentive to divine reading, seek correctly and with unwavering faith in God the meaning of the divine Scriptures that is hidden to the many. Never cease knocking and seeking, for prayer is indispensable in understanding divine things.

Origen was a teacher and writer in Alexandria, Egypt ca. 185-250. This quote is from Everett Ferguson, Inheriting Wisdom, Readings for Today from Ancient Christian Writers. Peabody: Hendrickson, 2004, page 228.

Theonas on reading Scripture

Let no day pass by without reading–at a suitable time–some portion of the sacred lessons, allowing time for meditation.  And never cast off the practice of reading the sacred Scriptures; for nothing feeds the soul and enriches the mind as much as those sacred lessons do.

Theonas was Bishop of Alexandria, Egypt ca. 281-300.  This quote is from Everett Ferguson, Inheriting Wisdom, Readings for Today from Ancient Christian Writers. Peabody: Hendrickson, 2004, page 228.