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September 24th, 2007


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01:46 pm - Out with an old prayer, in with the new: adventures in altering liturgy
When Three Cranes Grove, ADF, started, we lifted our liturgy almost entirely from The 6th Night Grove, ADF. I am particularly not ashamed of this little fact, because (quite honestly) it's a good liturgy and it's very "ADF Traditional", if such a thing could be said to exist.

One aspect of the liturgy we lifted, though, has been bugging me for some time. I believe this was added in by Amergin, actually, and I may have modified it slightly when we brought it over. It's called the "Universal Spirit Prayer," and it's something that I've mostly retained because of its familiarity to me, personally. It's one of those key ritual elements that puts me into a ritual mindset every time I hear it or say it.

Honestly, no one has ever complained about it or asked if we could leave it out. It's always been a part of our liturgy. Here's the text:
Universal Spirit Prayer:

You who are without name
You who are without gender
You who are without form
Spirit which exists in all Creation

We, the Children of the Earth
Call out to you
And ask that you bless this work and our lives.
So be it.
I started thinking about this sometime early last year, though: this prayer really doesn't fit well with ADF's cosmology.

As I thought about this prayer, what it meant to me, what it meant to the Grove, and what it meant in ritual context, it became more and more clear to me that it was time to sort of. . . steer away from its use.

The straw that really broke the camel's back on my feelings about this particular prayer was the introduction of the ADF Core Order of Ritual, which includes a handy little section about "Items that ADF Rituals Do Not Include". There, point five is:

     "Acknowledgment of one divine being with power over all"

And, of course, that's really what the US prayer is: acknowledgment of some nameless, formless, genderless . . . entity. Its placement, before the Earth Mother, as well as its general non-direction seem to empty the ritual into some sort of pan-henotheism (if such a thing can exist). I admit, that's not the direction I want to see us going.

So recently I set about trying to write a new prayer, one that could replace the Universal Spirit prayer with something more "cosmologically correct."

First, I thought about what I wanted the prayer to basically do: in this case, I wanted to bring people into a certain sort of cosmological "place": I wanted to describe where we were, and what we wanted to do in the most general terms. And I wanted to call attention to the basic structure of the cosmos around us.

I actually worked back from the end of the prayer. I knew that I somehow wanted to incorporate this line into the Grove's ritual work:
"Let us pray with a good fire."
I had thought about many places to put this line, which is so amazingly definitive of what we do in ritual (a separate post will appear on that later, I'm sure), and I suddenly had an open spot in the ritual to put it. I was quite excited about this prospect.

And so I placed that as the last line of this new opening prayer, and began with the ending line, and looked for a way to make the ending happen.

I wanted to introduce this prayer at the Grove's five year anniversary rite, and I'd been thinking about it for weeks by Saturday morning. I was frustrated, though, because I was stuck in a sort of "rut" that the overwhelming familiarity of the Universal Spirit prayer had.

While sitting on a park bench at Highbanks, though, I worked out the second-to-last line:
"Our hearts tied as one,"
It sounded good, and so I kept it. But still, the prayer was nowhere near complete.

Because of this, I opened my favourite Pagan book: Ceisiwr Serith's A Book of Pagan Prayer. I found a prayer for lighting the fire that I loved the imagery of:
The fire from the waters is here.
The fire from the land is here.
The fire from the sky is here.
From below, from about, from above,
fire has come here to my hearth:
burn there, Lady of Clear Sight.¹
I really, really like the imagery there, and I nearly used it wholesale, except for two things: I didn't want to add another goddess to our communal work without consulting the entire Grove (so the last line was out), and our Grove always starts with the fire already lit.

I continued flipping through Cei's book, and came across something just perfect to put in front of the lines I'd already come up with:
Surrounded by all the numinous beings of earth and sky and water,²
So now my prayer's ending looked like this:
Surrounded by all the numinous beings of earth and sky and water,
Our hearts tied together as one,
Let us pray with a good fire.
And I was very happy with this ending.

But I wasn't happy with the state of my now non-existent first part to the prayer. Then I remembered the prayer about the fire I had read earlier, and I went back to it.

Now I began to re-write it. My first attempt was this:
The spirits of the sky are here.
The spirits of the land are here.
The spirits of the water are here.
But this was problematic: the opening prayer shouldn't have the spirits being "here" before they're invited (leaving aside the perfectly valid theological statement that in Neo-Pagan ritual, the spirits are really everywhere and such), and I wanted the prayer to reflect the cosmos, but also express the idea that we will invite these beings to show up.

I played around with the words a bit, and found myself speaking more geographically in the next version:
The spirits of the sky are above us.
The spirits of the land are around us.
The spirits of the waters flow below us.
Then I put this part together with the rest:
The spirits of the sky are above us.
The spirits of the land are around us.
The spirits of the waters flow below us.
Surrounded by all the numinous beings of earth and sky and water,
Our hearts tied together as one,
Let us pray with a good fire.
And I found myself very excited about this prayer: here, I described how the cosmos was before the ritual began, at that very moment.

Here, there are three realms, seemingly unconnected and in various shades of distance. These realms are inhabited, and we know this, but they have not yet been invited. We are surrounded by them, and this implies that they can exert influence on us, and also that we are a part of their community.

And my favourite line in the whole thing makes good sense in context.

And with these things said, with the stage set like this, we can begin our rite: opening prayers can be said, we can recreate the sacred center from a geography that has already been mentioned in order to tie the cosmos together, and we can invite all these beings to join us.

It may still be a work in progress. I'm not entirely certain I like that second to last line (we aren't tied as a community until the attunement in our current version of the liturgy), but it works pretty well.

But the response it received at the two rites we did last weekend was very good. And, I found, even though no one had complained about the Universal Spirit prayer, other people had been thinking along the same lines as I had. I hope to continue using this prayer for a while, and to think about tweaking it here and there.

Now it just needs a catchy name. Any suggestions?

¹ - p. 114
² - p. 41
Current Location: Southeast of Disorder
Current Mood: accomplished
Current Music: "Kick It In Second Wind", -JB

(27 comments Leave a comment)

Comments:


(Deleted comment)
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From:chronarchy
Date:September 24th, 2007 08:36 pm (UTC)
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I thought about that. I actually just used that term this morning to refer to something else we do in our rituals, right after the Grove Attunement.

I might just have to stick with "Opening Prayer." But that's so boring!
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From:dragynphyre
Date:September 24th, 2007 07:40 pm (UTC)
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If you're not totally enthralled with "Our hearts tied together as one," , but you want to go with a similar feeling of community, maybe try something like "We stand together as one,"?

BTW, you're an inspiration - every time I see you post, it reminds me that I need to get off my ass and actually do what I'm being called to do. Now, if I can just get my momentum built up, I'll be able to start that uphill roll.
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From:chronarchy
Date:September 24th, 2007 08:57 pm (UTC)
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I dunno. Because ritual itself is designed to build community, I feel a lot like I'm jumping the gun with phrasing that makes it look like we're already community, ya know? I dunno. It sounds pretty, so I may keep it.

And thanks. Thing about rolling up hill, though: sometimes when you get that momentum going, you realize that you were actually always pointed down the hill, and you're gathering steam faster than you thought :) Especially when there's a calling involved :)
[User Picture]
From:avngrdnpriestes
Date:September 25th, 2007 04:28 pm (UTC)

'Opening Prayer'

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What about:

'We come now to stand as one'
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From:chronarchy
Date:September 25th, 2007 05:02 pm (UTC)

Re: 'Opening Prayer'

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I like that, and it may work. I'll have to fool about with that. Thanks!
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From:avngrdnpriestes
Date:September 25th, 2007 10:02 pm (UTC)

Re: 'Opening Prayer'

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You could rename it

'The Dawning Prayer'
(Deleted comment)
[User Picture]
From:chronarchy
Date:September 25th, 2007 01:25 pm (UTC)
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I'd be interested to see if folk think I'm only working horizontally with this prayer. I don't think I am, actually, even though I really talk about sky, land and waters instead of upper world, mid-world, and lower world.

But yeah, I figure that no mention is made of the worlds/realms/etc. until we go to re-create, which just seems. . . late to me. It's one thing if everyone is already in that sort of space, if everyone agrees on what the cosmos looks like (or should look like), and another thing if you've got a bunch of Wiccans, Kemetics, Thelemites, or other magico-religious traditions who might have a different idea of what the cosmos looks like.

My philosophy has always been, "get everyone on the same cosmological page as quickly and frequently as possible." It's worked well so far :)

I also want to take it to Ian next weekend; he's working on some sort of "unity prayer" we can all say before our rituals, or so I hear, and I'd like to have this for him, if he's interested in it.

I'm going to go post it to Liturgists this morning (time permitting). I need to write Cei back about that "let us pray with a good fire" line first :)
[User Picture]
From:romandruid
Date:September 25th, 2007 03:50 am (UTC)
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Honestly, Mike, I never liked the Universal Spirit prayer, but never made a stink because you were so attached to it. *sheepish grin*

I like what you're doing... I like anything with "numinous beings," although you might have to build up some background with folks unfamiliar with the two.

I also like the way your goes out to the three realms, then comes back to the FOCUS. You're preaching to the choir now, buddy boy!

I think it's the word "tied" that folks are tripping over a bit; maybe you could ponder that a bit, though I like the idea of it. "Tie" can evoke images of bondage, slavery, and being 'tied' to something whether you like it or not. Interwoven? Conjoined? I dunno... But I think you're on the right track.

Yup, yup, yup, I do believe maybe you're becoming a poet.. and maybe even old enough to write a chant or two. Soon, anyway. *grin*
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From:chronarchy
Date:September 25th, 2007 01:13 pm (UTC)
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Yeah, like I said, just because no one complained didn't mean that people liked it. :) (Honestly, I'm not entirely sure I ever liked it myself: I just used it as a crutch, really.)

And I thought of you immediately when I saw the word "numinous" :) Well, you and William James.

A while ago, I realized that I was a priest in a fire religion, which isn't something anyone has actually said to me, but which just sort of occurred to me one day. The fire is becoming more important in my own work, and I'm trying to emphasize it in the Grove work, too, particularly since it is a central, key aspect of ADF rituals: we always have a fire (or representation of one).

I hadn't thought of that connotation of "tied," but I'm unlikely to, I think. "Conjoined" might sound good and pretty, and it may flow well. I think "interwoven" has too many syllables to flow particularly well in that line, but I'll have to try it a couple of times.

And if you're referring to me as a poet by what poets do, then you're right. My poetry teacher in college always said, "Good poets borrow; great poets steal!"

And that's pretty much what I've done here :)
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From:gullinbursti
Date:September 25th, 2007 02:20 pm (UTC)
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If the penultimate line still feels problematic, I had been thinking about something like "Rooted in the same Earth that is our Mother"... though that repeats "Earth" in a way that does not quite jibe with the first use of the word, not to mention contributing to Tree Metaphor Overabundance Syndrome. (Or perhaps "Ssyndrome", just so you can get TREE-MOSS out of the acronym.)

I suppose you could reword the prayer to something like

Surrounded by all the numinous beings of land and sky and water,
Rooted in the same Earth that is our Mother,
Let us pray with a good fire.


if it didn't feel too repetitive.

Regardless, I like the prayer a lot better than the one you're replacing!
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From:chirael
Date:September 25th, 2007 08:33 pm (UTC)
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Why "conjoined" - "joined" seems to flow better IMO.
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From:fionnabhar
Date:September 28th, 2007 10:59 am (UTC)
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And your poetry teacher stole that line from T.S. Eliot. :-)
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From:dragynphyre
Date:September 25th, 2007 04:21 pm (UTC)
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Of those two, I like the term "interwoven" better. "Conjoined" summons up images of "Siamese" twins in my mind.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:September 25th, 2007 05:22 am (UTC)

No name suggestion, However...

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Two things:

As far as I'm concerned, reading about the process is as or more interesting than the prayer itself, so thanks for sharing it.

I like the rhythm of the prayer ... But, I am confused by the imagery of a 'good fire' (What makes a fire good? I don't doubt there is a reason for this, but I don't get it. Please explain :-).
[User Picture]
From:viedansante
Date:September 25th, 2007 05:24 am (UTC)

Re: No name suggestion, However...

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Next time, maybe, I'll even sign in...
[User Picture]
From:chronarchy
Date:September 25th, 2007 01:05 pm (UTC)

Re: No name suggestion, However...

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A fire is "good" in numerous ways, but I've begun to see it in a particular light.

The passage itself comes from the O'Doniger translation of RV 1.26.8 (translated by Griffith as "So, with bright fires, we pray to thee"). I've taken it in a variety of ways, and Cei and I have started a discussion on the line recently (I have to get back to him).

(FYI, I realized I was writing it off from what I was using both days: It is not "May we pray with a good fire," but "Let us pray with a good fire." I updated the post to reflect that.)

Cei has thought of it in the subjunctive, but now seems to consider it as possibly imperative, which works well in ritual. He also gave me some linguistic thoughts on the subject, basically relating the words "good fire" to something more like "a fire which is by the Rta" or "a fire which puts things together in the right way."

(Rta being something like "cosmic order" or "truth")

I think Cei is actually very correct on that, after reading the verses in context.

Prior to my conversations with Cei, though, I started thinking about this line, and began to make assumptions on my own about it. Primarily, I saw it as a sort of description of what ADF rituals really do: We "pray" with "fire".

The focus on *ghos-ti and reciprocity means that we bring offerings and sacrifices to the Kindreds. "Let us pray with a good fire" indicates that our prayers are not just ephemeral things, not just words that are empty, but rather that we back up our words with action.

In many ways, the phrase, "Let us pray with a good fire," shows our piety: it is our actions that rectify the macrocosm of the world, and the microcosm within ourselves.

So, yeah: our prayers are also physical acts, and they set the world right. Does that help?
[User Picture]
From:dragynphyre
Date:September 25th, 2007 04:27 pm (UTC)

Re: No name suggestion, However...

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I've always thought of "Let us pray with a good fire" in the imperative. "Let us pray" suggests to the participants that it is, indeed, time to pray.
[User Picture]
From:chronarchy
Date:September 25th, 2007 05:01 pm (UTC)

Re: No name suggestion, However...

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Cei also mentioned something about it being a sort of command to the fire, as well, like, "Be a good fire!" sort of thing.
[User Picture]
From:viedansante
Date:September 25th, 2007 09:50 pm (UTC)

Re: No name suggestion, However...

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Yes, it helps intellectually. I need to take my intellectual understanding and make it a practical understanding, and then I will understand it.

I need more words for understand, really. It's so imprecise.

Something I considered while reading this - if the statement is subjunctive, the placement of this prayer in the ritual format is made extremely appropriate. An imperative interpretation of the words does not make it less appropriate - but the subjective interpretation of the statement reminds me of some of the foreshadowing I've tried to incorporate into my writing. It follows one of the 'rules' one of my writing teachers expressed to her class- never blindside your readers with surprises. So, yeah, I like the idea of it being subjunctive, but I also like the idea of it being imperative, because that really ties in well with invocation.

In my mind, thus, it is both :-)
[User Picture]
From:draerendi
Date:September 25th, 2007 11:16 am (UTC)
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Nice. :)
You give me hope.
[User Picture]
From:chronarchy
Date:September 25th, 2007 01:14 pm (UTC)
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Well, that's a good thing :) Glad I could help, and glad you like the prayer.
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From:whereismypraire
Date:September 25th, 2007 04:17 pm (UTC)
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I heard it through the grape vine, that you might be leaving ohio to go to grad school.....

true?
[User Picture]
From:chronarchy
Date:September 25th, 2007 05:01 pm (UTC)
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If I'm accepted elsewhere and not accepted here, I may, yes.
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From:chirael
Date:September 25th, 2007 08:37 pm (UTC)
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I disliked the "Universal Spirit Prayer" a lot when I read it last month, but also decided to hold my tongue (not my grove).

I like what you came up with very much, but are you trying to fit this into the Bardic Inspiration part of the ritual?

Seems like it would fit with the group unity section more, maybe said by D1 right after the grove meditation or something like that.
[User Picture]
From:chronarchy
Date:September 25th, 2007 08:57 pm (UTC)
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The first part of our rituals go like this:
  1. simple purpose/precedent/general centering
  2. Procession
  3. Outdwellers
  4. Process some more
  5. purify with fire and water
  6. opening prayers
    1. What used to be the universal spirit prayer
    2. Earth Mother
    3. Inspiration
  7. more complete purpose/precedent
etc.etc.etc. . .

We use the following prayer for unity, right after the Grove meditation:
The waters support and surround us
The land extends about us
The sky stretches out above us.
At our center burns a living flame.
May all the Kindred bless us.
May our worship be true.
May our actions be just.
May our love be pure.
Blessings, and honor, and worship to the Holy Ones.
Which works nicely.

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