A Prayer for persons troubled in mind or in
O Blessed Lord, the Father of
mercies, and the God of all comforts: We beseech thee, look down in
pity and compassion upon this thy afflicted servant. Thou writest
bitter things against him, and makest him to
possess his former iniquities; thy wrath lieth hard upon
him, and his soul is full of trouble: But, O
merciful God, who hast written thy holy word for our learning, that
we, through patience and comfort of thy holy Scriptures, might have
hope; give him a right understanding of himself,
and of thy threats and promises; that he may neither cast
away his confidence in thee, nor place it anywhere but in
thee. Give him strength against all his
temptations, and heal all his distempers. Break not the
bruised reed, nor quench the smoking flax. Shut not up thy tender
mercies in displeasure; but make him to hear of joy and
gladness, that the bones which thou hast broken may rejoice.
Deliver him from fear of the enemy, and lift up the light
of thy countenance upon him, and give him peace,
through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ our Lord.
From the Order for the
Visitation of the Sick, Book of Common Prayer (1662)
IN ALL my pastoral visits, I have the Prayer Book to hand. Some
parts seem unlikely to be of use, but always, when tried and tested
words are required, it delivers - not least because the whole
Psalter is there.
This prayer recognises that in the human condition is a need at
times to lament, to acknowledge darkness without a too-hasty
reaching for the light. Amid its density of scriptural allusions
are two references ("thy wrath lieth hard upon me," and "my soul is
full of trouble") to Psalm 88, which, uniquely among the psalms,
offers not a single ray of sunshine to relieve the expression of
imprisoned despair. To anyone in that kind of locked-away state of
mind, such a truthful recognition as this prayer gives comes as a
relief. Acknowledging the reality goes some way towards the
possibility of change.
It is a long prayer, but difficult to abbreviate. Troubles of
the mind or conscience can be felt as relentless, and require a
robust, prolonged response. This prayer's sequence of scriptural
images at first (as far as "his soul is full of trouble") rides the
oncoming waves of despair, and then (from "give him a right
understanding of himself" onwards) reverses them. It recognises
that calm is hard-wrung from despair, and helps to turns the
The compilers who added this prayer to the Visitation of the
Sick in 1662, wrote from a theological grounding; but prayers are
not themselves doctrinal statements. So we need not be too
disturbed that the language here appears to attribute the source of
woe to God.
The important point is that, to someone in such a case, despair
seems to be cast so hard that one fears it must be deserved or
intended. The prayer takes seriously what is experienced, and yet
directs our mind towards a God who is both strong and sympathetic.
He who broke the prison doors of the tomb is able to reach into our
own bleakest incarceration.
Temptations and "distempers" are not much spoken of today, but
experienced often enough. When I meet them, this prayer leads me
towards "a right understanding" of other struggling souls, and my
The Revd Philip Martin is Vicar of St James's, Alderholt,