Xan Laurence contributed her thoughts on prayer and an old hymn from childhood. Thank you, Xan…
My heart an altar?
I am not a prayer.
More accurately, I am not a pray-er. I am not one who prays, much, except in the “Please, God” sense – “Please, God, let me find a parking space”; “Please, God, let me not be late”; “Please, God, let me win the lottery”… Even an occasion which perhaps should have evoked a prayer – a narrowly avoided car crash – instead found me repeating, “Oh, $#!+, oh $#!+” for as long as it took to avoid hitting anything and regain control of my vehicle.
Yet now and again I find myself engaging in what seems to me to be prayer, although it bears little resemblance to the traditional kind I was taught. Instead it involves contemplating, with internal soundtrack, the words of a hymn, usually one that has been imprinted on my brain from childhood. In particular there is one hymn that says pretty much everything about how I would like to experience a connection to the Divine.
That hymn is “Spirit of God, Descend Upon My Heart.” I learned it from the Lutheran hymnal of the 60s in its un-updated form, with thees and thous and references to God as King. Since I love Shakespeare I can deal with archaisms, and I view references to kings as just as metaphorical as any of the other images of God that populate the Bible and the hymnal. It’s the sentiment, not the style, that speaks to me.
As one who finds the Holy Spirit the most interesting aspect of the Trinity, perhaps because I covet the gift of tongues bestowed on the disciples at Pentecost, I find myself resonating with the desire expressed in the words of the hymn.
Spirit of God, descend upon my heart;
Wean it from earth, through all its pulses move;
Stoop to my weakness, mighty as thou art,
And make me love thee as I ought to love.
I seek no dream, no prophet ecstasies,
No sudden rending of the veil of clay,
No angel visitant, no opening skies;
But take the dimness of my soul away.
Hast thou not bid me love thee, God and King;
All, all thine own, soul, heart and strength and mind?
I see thy Cross; there teach my heart to cling;
O let me seek thee, and O let me find!
Teach me to love thee as thine angels love,
One holy passion filling all my frame;
The baptism of the heaven-descended Dove,
My heart an altar, and thy love the flame.
The second and fourth verses are the ones that I find most meaningful and most evocative of the kind of state I think of as prayer – the state I’m seeking when I let the words and the music flow through me. Yes, please, God, take the dimness of my soul away!