Thursday, July 24, 2008

The Serenity Prayer

July 24, 2008

A distinguished book editor called Fred R. Shapiro has researched a number of appearances of the Serenity Prayer that appeared before its publication by Reinhold Niebuhr in 1951. Niebuhr was a noted theologian who died in 1971 and is usually attributed as the author of the prayer. His preferred version is as follows:

God, give us the grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed, courage to change the things that should be changed, and the wisdom to distinguish one from the other

After reading his article (Yale Alumni Magazine, July/)Aug 2008.p.35-39) and one written in response by Niebuhr’s daughter, Elisabeth Sifton (p.40-41) I find myself persuaded that while there may be antecedents of sorts to Niebuhr’s publication of the prayer, the way a pastor prays the same or very similar prayers over time that become shared and ‘picked up’ by others makes it likely that the prayer is really and truly Niebuhr’s work. At any rate it is a wonderful prayer.

It ahs set me wondering –without any answers of course—as to the place of resistance in the face of change. These days in church and state we see sophisticated and always well funded resistance to change that is already underway. Should there be a phrase about knowing when to resist change? Or are all such conservative impulses ultimately doomed? Would it not be better to embrace and shape change that is underway? Your thoughts are welcome.

1 comment:

Mark Siegel said...

The writer V.S. Naipaul said this in his great novel "A Bend in the River":

"The world is what it is."

Part of what he is suggesting, I think, is that the forces of intertia in our lives, like the flowing of the river in his book's title, often feel like they are impossible to resist. Unless we affirm the givens in our lives, unless we radically affirm and embrace who and what we are, then we may never experience the liberating power of God's love. More than anyone else ever has, Jesus accepted -- indeed, insisted upon -- his deepest self without compromise.

I think we need to resist and then change the givens in our lives when the river we live in, to pick up on Naipaul's metaphor, has become stagnant and clogged and opaque -- when it is no longer life-giving. Being able to recognize these moments of lifelessness can be a gift if we really immerse ourselves in them --if we die in them, so to speak -- so we can emerge more whole than we were before.


Mark Siegel