Two Prayers and a Hymn for a New Year

It’s affectionately called “The Merton Prayer.” Found in Thomas Merton’s 1956 book, Thoughts in Solitude, the preacher quoted it in the worship service I attended the Sunday before Christmas.

My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
nor do I really know myself,

and the fact that I think I am following your will
does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you.
And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.

And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road,

though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore will I trust you always though
I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.
I will not fear, for you are ever with me,
and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.

When I heard the prayer, which I know fairly well, it felt like a dagger pierced my heart. “That’s me!” I admitted to myself. Some days I just seem lost. I can’t see the road ahead for The United Methodist Church. And I’m not even sure where the next step will take us. I want to be attuned to God’s will, and I do not want to fear. Yet, at times it feels as if I face my perils alone. Like Thomas Merton, I’m not always convinced that I can even discern the Way.

The year 2020 has arrived! Whereas many people have already decided on their New Years’ resolutions, which are very specific, mine are rather amorphous. All I know is that the spiritual life is a journey, and I am called to travel that road as a servant leader.

Thomas Merton, a Trappist monk and one of the foremost spiritual writers of the 20th century, believed that seeking God in the quiet places is foundational to the life of a disciple of Jesus Christ. As one who relishes the solitude of the desert, I resonate with Merton’s words from his 1956 book Thoughts in Solitude, This, then, is our desert: to live facing despair, but not to consent. To trample it down under hope in the cross.” I, too, am tempted to live facing despair, but I am not willing to consent.

Merton also addresses in his book the delight of a solitary life as well as the necessity for quiet reflection in an age when so little is private. “When society is made up of men (and women) who know no interior solitude, it can no longer be held together by love: and consequently it is held together by a violent and abusive authority. But when men (and women) are violently deprived of the solitude and freedom which are their due, the society in which they live becomes putrid, it festers with servility, resentment and hate.”

My prayer for all of us in 2020 is that we will first seek God’s will in solitude before we speak, act, or be tempted to draw lines in the sand. In the midst of self-doubt, Thomas Merton was able to look deep into his heart at the same time as he kept his eyes focused on Jesus. When you have no idea where you are going or cannot see the road ahead of you, can you remember that God will never leave you to face your perils alone?

The second prayer is recited in many congregations on the first Sunday of the new year. Just as we make New Year’s resolutions, so in John Wesley’s Covenant Prayer, we recommit ourselves to a faith that is authentic, humble, outer-directed, and yielded to God’s intentions for us as disciples. Did you pray it yesterday?

I am no longer my own, but yours.
Put me to what you will, rank me with whom you will;
put me to doing, put me to suffering;
let me be employed by you, or laid aside for you,
exalted for you, or brought low by you;
let me be full, let me be empty,
let me have all things, let me have nothing:
I freely and fully yield all things to your pleasure and disposal.
And now, glorious and blessed God,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
you are mine and I am yours. So be it.
And the covenant which I have made on earth,
let it be confirmed in heaven. Amen.

How are you being called to offer yourself completely to God, to have all things and yet to have nothing? How will you covenant with God in 2020 to let go of everything that prevents you from modeling the grace of Jesus Christ in a broken world?

The song is not sung as often as it should be in our local churches, but it has a powerful message for Christ followers in today’s world. On December 11, 1845, the New England poet and abolitionist James Russell Lowell published a poem in the Boston Courier that was titled Verses Suggested by the Present Crisis.

Until 1836, Texas had been part of Mexico, but in that year a group of settlers from the United States who lived in Mexican Texas declared their independence. They called their new country the Republic of Texas, which was an independent country for nine years before it became the 28th state in the Union on December 29, 1854.

The burning political issue in the United States, however, was whether Texas would be admitted as a slave state or a free state. Texas was finally admitted as a slave state, which occasioned anti-abolitionist James Russell Lowell’s poem.

Once to every man and nation comes the moment to decide
In the strife of Truth with Falsehood, for the good or evil side;
Some great cause, God’s new Messiah, offering each the bloom or blight,
And the choice goes by forever ‘tween that darkness and that light.
By the light of burning martyrs, Christ, Thy bleeding feet we track,
Toiling up new Calv’ries ever, With the cross that turns not back;
New occasions teach new duties, Ancient values test our youth;
They must upward still and onward, Who would keep abreast of truth. 

Part of Lowell’s poem was later included into a well-known hymn, Once to Every Man and Nation, which is found in our United Methodist hymnal and was also quoted by Martin Luther King, Jr. in his 1963 We Shall Overcome speech.

What happens when disciples of Jesus Christ are called to decide for truth or falsehood? What new occasions will teach us new duties in the year 2020? How is God urging us to move upward and onward and keep abreast of truth?

O God, I confess that I, too, can’t always see the road ahead of me. The way seems dark, and the future is uncertain. At the same time, you give me the strength and the vison to keep on loving you with my whole heart and model the grace of Jesus Christ wherever I may find myself. Grant that, in the midst of doubts and uncertainty, the sweetness and the power of your Holy Spirit will guide my thoughts and actions. Like your children, Thomas Merton, John Wesley, and James Russell Lowell, I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone. Amen.

As long as I have 2 prayers and a hymn, I am good to go!

 

 

 

 

 

 

4 thoughts on “Two Prayers and a Hymn for a New Year

  1. When did sexuality “trump” Christianity? It really hurts my heart to know there are UMC congregations who are withholding apportionments because of the issue facing us today. Our congregation struggles to make our payments due to our economy in rural IA.

  2. Thank you for your clarification. It helps.
    I am sorry I didn’t get a chance to talk to you onChristmas Eve.
    You certainly looked happy. Grand children are blessings.

    Peace, Margaret

  3. Who doesn’t like Thomas Merton? Your Merton reference is so appropriate in today’s climate, even among Christians, sad to say. If anything, we followers of Christ should not be breeders of hate, but breeders of love. Thanks for noting one of my favorite authors. You mention Texas, taken from Mexico by Americans desirous of spreading slavery and now, many antagonistic to Mexicans. I look at so many names in Texas that are obviously Spanish. I once had a cousin in Amarillo. I always addressed her card, “Yellow, Texas”. I so wished I’d had a cousin in Corpus Christi!

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