Most of the Occasional Prayers and Thanksgivings in the 2019 Prayer Book are fantastic resources. One or two of them are “not my cup of tea”, and some are strange but oddly satisfying to me. That is because it has sections for Personal Life and Personal Devotion, where you will find a number of prayers written from a particular spiritual perspective, or that come from a particular spiritual tradition. I wrote about Saint Anselm’s intellectual-affective tradition last month, that’s an example of a particular spirituality at play.
Today let’s look at Occasional Prayer #71 For Christ To Be Formed In Us
Lord Jesus, Master Carpenter of Nazareth, on the Cross through wood and nails you wrought our full salvation: Wield well your tools in this, your workshop, that we who come to you rough-hewn may be fashioned into a truer beauty by your hand; who with the Father and the Holy Spirit live and reign, one God, world without end. Amen.
First of all, it’s fun to point out that this is a rare example of a Collect that’s addressed to God the Son rather than God the Father. There are a couple classical Prayer Book examples where this happens, so it’s not unheard-of. It’s just a rarity.
And in this case it’s important that this prayer addresses Jesus because what this prayer seems to be (in my estimation) is the fruit of lectio divina. This ancient practice of meditation on Scripture is related to the Anselmian tradition mentioned above. One of the steps in (or “methods” of) lectio divina is imagining oneself in the scene of a biblical text. It seems to me that the author of this prayer was meditating on Luke 2:51, or some other reference to Jesus’ life at home growing up at home, with Mary and Joseph, identifying him as a carpenter’s son, and then using that imagery in a prayer for our own spiritual growth.
We are to grow in the spirit. Normally the biblical imagery for own spiritual growth is that of a tree with branches that bear fruit. But, sticking with Jesus as the carpenter, we are envisioned instead as a workshop where he is laboring away. The wood and nails of the Cross are also remembered, as the tools of his trade both as a carpenter and as Redeemer. There is the acknowledgement that we were originally made good but the imago Dei is marred within us apart from his salvation and second birth, so we are “rough-hewn” in need of fashioning into “a truer beauty” by Christ.
This is, one might say, a very “domestic” spirituality. Carpentry, an otherwise ordinary career in this world, is utilized to explore the Gospel of Christ and provide a metaphorical framework for the doctrine of sanctification – our continual growth in grace in holiness. As a result, this prayer may strike you as especially “real”, appealing to images and themes that you are really very used to. But if you’re not particularly handy with a hammer and nails this may feel like an awkward prayer to say.
Ironically I put together a small bookshelf just before typing this up. And irony upon irony, I skipped the step where you hammer its cardboard back on, so as not to wake up my napping toddler. So maybe I will be in a better frame of mine this evening than usual to pray this prayer.