It is a cold winter evening ...
You will remember the Collect: “O God, from whom all holy desires, all good counsels, and all just works do proceed; give unto thy servants that peace which the world cannot give; that our hearts may be set to obey thy commandments, and also that by thee, we, being defended from the fear of our enemies, may pass our time in rest and quietness; through the merits of Jesus Christ our Saviour. Amen.”
To reflect on that collect is to enter deep into the origins of the Book of Common Prayer: to note not just the particular genius of Cranmer in the 16th century, but also touch the spirit and character of deep devotion and reflective prayer first couched in Latin and part of the liturgical practise of religious communities in the medieval and the ancient church. There are deep roots here.
The poise and balance of the collect still affect us as we listen, though familiar as it is over the years. It reminds us that prayer, shaped and polished over time, is not just a verbal impulse of the spirit in the moment but a direction of the soul that shapes and forms us.
The first part addresses God and is a reminder of God as presence, source and purpose of all that is holy, good and just. That directs, attunes us if you like, to recognise the nature of God and of the signs of God’s presence and action in all the world about us.
From that fundamental recognition there is a primary petition for the correct disposition of the soul: “Give unto thy servants that peace which the world cannot give…” The phrasing is reminiscent of the old BCP blessing which spoke of “the peace of God that passeth all understanding”, and it is a spiritual anchor for to know that peace, to abide in that peace, is to live in Christ.
From that orientation there follows a series of consequential petitions:
1. “that our hearts may be set to obey thy commandments;” we know the ease with which we become distracted by many cares and competing allegiances – and this is a highly realistic request that we set our hearts in the right direction and be firmly focussed.
2. “and also that by thee, we, being defended from the fear of our enemies, may pass our time in rest and quietness.” This closes the circle of the prayer and returns us to that petition for peace with which the collect began. But, as I observed in the reflection this morning, the prayer is not a petition that we don’t feel fear but a prayer for deliverance from fear of our enemies – whatever these enemies may be. To abide in Christ, to abide in the peace of his presence, is to be steadied amidst whatever fears may assail us.