The pocket Oxford Book of Prayer: A review

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The pocket Oxford Book of Prayer: A review
The pocket Oxford Book of Prayer: A review

Africa-Press – Lesotho. I had planned this week to return to the subject of life in Colonel Gaddafi’s Libya, but have had to postpone that commitment again, as the sequence of pieces is not yet written.

Two reasons for this: a couple of urgent academic commissions are hanging over my head like the sword of Damocles, and re-visiting events in Libya in the mid-1980s will be somewhat stressful.

So, this week and next, something different – a piece that relates to what I was saying some months ago about the language of poetry and the language of prayer.

The Oxford University Press is one of the oldest and greatest publishing houses in the world (and I don’t make that claim merely because I am an Oxford graduate, and old, and slightly great).

The Pocket Oxford Book of Prayer was first published in 1989, edited by George Appleton, who also composed some of the prayers. The contents come from numerous denominations, though a large proportion are, as one would expect, from the Anglican Church.

There are also prayers from other faiths, including a surah from the Qu’ran. There is at least one touch of humour in the book. In a section on prayers relating to the Eucharist, Appleton juxtaposes two quotations from the Oxford philosopher of language A. J. Ayer. The first: “What could be more ridiculous than the Eucharist?” The second: “I could be wrong. I’m not omniscient. ”

One of the prayers that has special significance for your columnist and his left-wing views is by Appleton and has to do with works, with the belief that we are here on earth in large part to struggle to make it better (as of now, we appear not to be making a very good job of this).

The prayer concludes: “Accept our compassion for our fellow-men, / our desire for their relief,/ . . . Help us to help thee complete thy universe, / O creator Father, / to remove its flaws, / so that we may be sub-creators with thee of the / Kingdom of thy love in Jesus Christ.

” For why were we made so able, if not to take on such a task?
There are quite a few poems from Africa and I want to focus on these. They chime in well with what I was saying some months ago about the language of poetry used in the service of prayer.

The first two are both built from metaphor (broadly speaking, the art of saying something by saying something else that images or conveys the sense of what one had in mind).

Many proverbs work on metaphor: for example, a favourite of mine from Nigeria, which might be applied to the Lesotho parliament, with its constant defections and floor-crossing: “When the axe first came into the forest, the oldest and wisest tree said ‘Beware! The handle was once one of us.

The first of the African prayers I want to quote is from “an African schoolgirl” and reads: “O thou great Chief, light a candle in my heart, that I may see what is therein, and sweep the rubbish from thy dwelling-place.

” The other is from “a Nigerian Christian”: “God in Heaven, you have helped my life to grow like a tree.

Now something has happened. Satan, like a bird, has carried from the tree one twig of his choosing after another. Before I knew it he had built a dwelling-place and was living in it. Tonight, my Father, I am throwing out both the bird and the nest.”

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