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Prayer for the week

16 May 2014

Pip Martin finds himself invited to talk less, pray more, and leave the rest to Jesus


Kindly Jesus, be to us simply what thou art - and no more shall we now want for our rich store. Amen.

Fr Ralph Martin SSM (b. 1930)

THIS prayer evokes for me a still-remembered but distant time in the life of the Church. In the 1950s, many young men returned from the enforced gap years of National Service, having discovered in themselves a yearning for a bigger cause and a farther horizon. The Society of the Sacred Mission provided at its mother-house in Kelham, Nottinghamshire, the opportunity for many to live simply, learn seriously, play hard, and pray wholeheartedly.

Former soldiers discovered a new front line, and a bigger conflict that most of us avoid. Kelham became a magnet, a refuge, and often an inspiration for them. Many became monks, and far more became priests, to whom we owe much.

The Brothers who oversaw this astonishing (but not flawless) project were - as are the Anglican religious today - often learned, invariably eccentric, and, typically, more than a little holy. Fr Ralph Martin SSM, who is Canadian, is now in his eighties. He taught those young men - who had often had little previous education - New Testament Greek.

He wrote this prayer in its original Latin on a card for one of his students at his ordination in 1962, and then, at the ordinand's request, added this English translation.

The prayer is simple. Jesus is addressed directly, and he is not, in this instance, "Lord", but "Kindly". Amid the dire combats or the long watches of Christian service, we often need few, though genuine, words; but we need most of all a sense of direct connection with a kindly Jesus.

He loves us, we Christians often declare. That he might, in fact, like us we are less clear, but this prayer stakes such a claim, and helps us to address one who always addresses us first - and that not with recrimination or regret, but with kindness.

When we were young in our faith, there was a good deal we wanted to say, and sing, to Jesus, our Saviour and our soul-mate. Many words and good intentions - and disappointments - later, we make a humbler return to the one who is our source and our hope. We, too, wanted him to mirror our wishes and our loathing. Now, at last, we just want Jesus.

Such might have been the Prodigal Son's next, murmured words, at his homecoming - no longer demanding or seeking what he wants, but kneeling, with head bowed: "Be to us simply what thou art."

Much of our prayer is seeking and asking, and rightly so. Here, however, turning to Jesus, we find all we need in him who lives only to find us. Those young men in their cassocks, leaving Kelham to work in the parishes of those days of rationing, gave all they could, but learned, as we all somehow must, that the Christian life is, in fact, gift, and is all about Jesus.

If we turn to him - be it readily, or wearily; as young prodigal, or as elder, self-righteous son - we have all we truly need, and more than we ever dared to imagine: "And no more shall we now want for our rich store."

A now elderly but undiminished priest makes his way to church and opens his Prayer Book, the page marked by an ordination card written 52 years ago. Simple words back then, hastily translated from Latin into awkward English, have been slowly translated into a life. As we read and say these words, we are each invited, I think, to talk less, pray more, and let kindly Jesus see to the rest.

The Revd Philip Martin is Vicar of St James's, Alderholt, in the diocese of Salisbury.

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