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Out with an old prayer, in with the new: adventures in altering liturgy - Chronarchy

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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

(25 comments Leave a comment)

Comments:


[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...

(Link)
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 :-)

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