Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Written Prayers: Barth & Brueggemann

In more recent years I have loved reading and praying written prayers in the morning (something quite radical from my own anti-liturgical baptist tradition). Reading through the Book of Common Prayer has been a joy and I can add to that reading through two other books of collected prayers every morning: Karl Barth and Walter Brueggemann.

Karl Barth
Fifty Prayers
Trans. David Carl Stassen.
Louisville/London: Westminster John Knox, 2005
Available from Amazon.com (USA)
Available from Alban Books (UK)

In this book we get a glance, not of Karl Barth the towering theologian, but Karl Barth the Christian and the Pastor. For the Barthophobes out there (I was once one of them) there is no prayer for: "I thank you god for your non-propositional revelation, for your modalistic trinity, and for some kind of quasi-universalism that I cannot make up my mind on". These are prayers you could find on the lips of any Reformed Pastor and they are poignant and moving all at once. The prayers are based around a number of themes like Christmas, Epiphany, Good Friday, Pentecost, Trinity Sunday, Ascension, Funerals, etc. Consider this (# 21):

"Lord, our God, here we are gathered, before you and with one another, to celebrate Easter, the day on which you revealed your dear Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, as the living Saviour who took upon himself all of our sins and, with them, all of our human poverty and even death itself, paid the penance and suffering in our place, and once for all adn forevermore conquered them all and set them all aside".

Reading this was refreshing to my soul!

Walter Brueggemann
Prayers for a Privileged People
Nashville: Abingdon, 2008
Available from Amazon.com (USA)
Available from Alban Books (UK)

This collection of prayers by Brueggemann is for those who live in the privileged situation of North America and it deals with issues that this privileged people face (privilege and entitlement, injustice and violence). The prayers cover a number of areas: collect for purity, well-arranged lives, the world is not safe, brick production, can we risk it?, and choirs of hope. All of the prayers have a poetic rather than prose quality about them. I have to say that many of the prayers are oh-soooo-american it's not funny, e.g. prayers for "Super Bowl Sunday" and "The State of the Union". Indeed, to some extent, the book could be regarded as one long prayer of repentance for American affluence and arrogance! Consider this Christmas prayer:

And while we wait for the Christ Child,
we are enthralled by the things of Caesar -
money ... power ... control
and all the well-being that comes from
such control, even if it requires violence

But in the midst of the decree will come this long-expected Jesus
innocent, vulnerable,
full of grace and truth,
grace and not power,
truth and not money,
mercy and not control.

We also dwell in the land of Caesar;
we pray for the gift of your spirit,
that we may loosen our grip on the things of Caesar,
that we may turn our eyes toward the babe,
our ears towards the newness,
our hearts toward the gentleness,
our power and money and control
towaard your new governance.

I don't expect Joel Osteen or the chaplain to the GOP to pray this one in the near future. I did not enjoy Brueggemann's book of prayers as much as Barth's, but it does have some good and stirring stuff at points. It also makes us think how our western affluence and privilege should effect our devotional and liturgical life.

5 comments:

Nick said...

Hey Mike. I've been using 'The Divine Hours' on and off for over a year. It's really taken alot of distracting subjectivity out of prayer and is a great launch pad for any extemporaneous prayer.

I remember reading a while back that you'd contributed to an evangelical prayer book. Do you know when it will become available?

D.W. Congdon said...

"I thank you god for your non-propositional revelation, for your modalistic trinity, and for some kind of quasi-universalism that I cannot make up my mind on."

Mike, is this really necessary? You sound surprised to find anything of worth in Barth, as if -- surprise, surprise! -- he's actually a Christian after all!

If you actually read Barth, you'll see that his Trinity is not modalist in the least. Using the language of "modes of being" has, at best, only formal similarity with modalism. Modalism says that the three persons are only in the economic and not in the immanent being of God. That is, behind Father, Son, and Spirit there is the actual being of God, which isn't characterized by a three-in-oneness. Barth clearly rejects this. I assume you know that, but it really is counterproductive to make snide remark about Barth's doctrine of God -- this only perpetuates massive misunderstandings.

The other remarks are just as unhelpful. I assume you think that revelation ought to be propositional on the basis of your statement. But Barth never rejects propositional content. He only subordinates that to a "personal revelation" in Jesus Christ. Revelation is personal before it is propositional. Can't we all agree on that?

As for universalism, Barth knew what he believed. What you seem unable to acknowledge is that Barth's theology is dialectical: always Yes and No. Of course, he affirmed that the dialectic moves toward a unified Yes, but only eschatologically, and thus only in the gracious judgment of God in Jesus Christ -- not in our rational ability to "figure out" God. Salvation is indeed actualized for all, and so the substance of universalism is affirmed. But what he rejects is a rational system that could explain God and humanity. Hence his rejection of Berkouwer's book title, "The Triumph of Grace," and his affirmation instead of the slogan, "Jesus is Victor!" Salvation is guaranteed on the basis of Jesus Christ, not on the basis of a theological system.

Maybe your remark was meant to be humorous. If so, let's find some more constructive ways to be humorous, rather than perpetuate mythologies about Barth's theology. And if you weren't being humorous, then shame on you -- read some Barth.

Michael F. Bird said...

D.W.

I think you need to go back and re-read my post. Because it is the exact opposite of everything you suggest. I was caricaturing anti-Barthian opposition, i.e. the Barthophobes! For that matter, I have read a fair bit of Barth and even blogged on it too. I know Barth is not a modalist, in fact, I wrote an entire undergraduate paper arguing that he wasn't. There is some humour here, but Barth is not the butt of it!!!

Gary Ottoson said...

This prayer is astounding no matter who wrote it:

"Lord, our God..you revealed your dear Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, as the living Saviour who took upon himself all of our sins and, with them, all of our human poverty and even death itself, paid the penance and suffering in our place, and once for all and forevermore conquered them all and set them all aside".

Pastor Beisel said...

I don't know much about Barth, but I do know something about prayer books. Some colleagues of mine put together a daily office prayer book with the entire Psalter pointed to Gregorian Chant, called the Brotherhood Prayer Book. I use it almost every day for Morning Prayer and Vespers. You can read about it here: www.emmanuelpress.us

Paul Beisel
www.gladiusspiritus.blogspot.com