A Collect Prayer for Beginnings: “Make me new in the middle”
|"Moses and the Burning Bush," by Pedro Orrente (1580–1645)|
One of the assignments that I give students in my "Practices of Worship" course at Fuller Seminary is to write a weekly Collect Prayer. Most will not have been familiar with this term, and it will sound just as strange to their ears as it did to mine when I first heard the term in college.
I will tell them, however, that if they wish to understand the basic grammar of Christian prayer, then they need to get a clear grasp of the Lord's Prayer (the basic New Testament prayer), the Psalms (the basic Old Testament prayer), and the Collect Prayer (the basic prayer of church history).
Dating back to the 5th century of the church’s liturgical life, the Collect Prayer is rooted in a basic biblical pattern of prayer that “collects” the prayers of God’s people. As C. Frederick Barbee and Paul. F. M. Zahl explain in their preface to The Collects of Thomas Cranmer:
"This at first extemporaneous prayer would later also be connected to the Epistle and Gospel appointed for the day. A Collect is a short prayer that asks ‘for one thing only’ (Fortescue) and is peculiar to the liturgies of the Western Churches, being unknown in the Churches of the East. It is also a literary form (an art comparable to the sonnet) usually, but not always, consisting of five parts.”
A typical example from the Book of Common Prayer is this Collect Prayer for Guidance:
Heavenly Father, in you we live and move and have our being: We humbly pray you so to guide and govern us by your Holy Spirit, that in all the cares and occupations of our life we may not forget you, but may remember that we are ever walking in your sight; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
As I tell my students, the Collect Prayer is a commemorative prayer. The model of the Collect Prayer brings to mind what God has done in the past and who God will continue to be in the present. Thus the pattern: You, who…. With this model of prayer, we remember before we request; we call to mind the ways of God before we petition the will of God.
It is also a profoundly theological prayer. The Collect Prayer always keeps the activity of God in close connection to the character of God. By praying first the name of God in light of a particular activity of God, we protect ourselves from abstract or idiosyncratic notions of divine justice, love or goodness, for example, and root them instead in the concrete manifestation of trinitarian justice, love and goodness: how Jesus does justice, how the Spirit does love, how the Father does goodness.
The basic structure of the Collect Prayer is as follows:
1. Name God ("You who...")
2. Remember God’s activity or attributes
4. State the desired hope
5. End in Christological or Trinitarian way
I ask them to write a Collect Prayer for doubt or trust in God; for workers in the marketplace and for homemakers too; for a specific person in their community in light of a specific person in Holy Scripture; for healing (whether physical, emotional, mental or relational); for the experience of joy, good news or fruitfulness; for the experience of loss, suffering, tragedy or death; for reconciliation; for endings; and so on.
Anybody can write and benefit from a Collect Prayer: individuals, small groups, church staff, community leaders, teachers, coaches, and so on. All you need is to learn the basic form, to immerse yourself in the stories of Holy Scripture, and to imagine circumstances and needs that are relevant to your context.
One of my students, Sarah Jose, who works as a missionary in India, wrote the following Collect Prayer for Beginnings. I asked if I could share it publicly and she said yes. While it does not exhibit the economy of the usual Collect Prayer, it retains the spirit of the Collect, and it offers the people of God, who may find themselves in the "middle of their life," a beautiful prayer to put on their lips.
“Make me new in the middle”
O God, my Creator, Beginning of beginnings,
Here in the middle of my ages, I remember your call on Moses.
You waited until he was past his prime, and past his self,
Past his desire to shine, and past his need to hide.
The burning bush broke through his cycle of days,
Cut through his comfortable habits and patterns.
He became new in the middle.
Creator of Beginnings, give me a new start today.
Break my cycling days and weeks and my familiar routine.
As you have sustained me this far (farther and further than I ever expected)
Now in the burning mid-day of my life,
Please Lord, make me new.
With courage to be new in the middle
I rest in you, God my creative Father,
Jesus my sustaining Friend,
and Holy Spirit, my illuminating Vision.