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Be anchored in the still centre

08 July 2016

Ian Cowley relishes contemplative words for a busy world


Eternal God, from whom all holy desires, all good counsels and all just works proceed:
give your servants that peace
which the world cannot give
that our hearts may be set to obey your commandments
and that, free from the fear of our enemies
we may pass our time in rest and quietness;
through the merits of Jesus Christ our Saviour. Amen.


THIS prayer, in its traditional form, will be familiar to all who know and love Prayer Book evensong. The modern-language version here, however, is from the 1989 An Anglican Prayer Book of the Church of the Province of Southern Africa.

There is no modernised version of this prayer in the main volume of Common Worship, although it does appear in Common Worship: Daily Prayer, tucked away in evening prayer on Thursday. That version begins: “O God, the source of all good desires, all right judgements, and all just works . . .”

I have greatly valued this prayer, in both traditional and contemporary forms. If the Church is to continue to pass on some of the great liturgical and spiritual riches of our inheritance, I would like to see this prayer used regularly. There is every likelihood that the Prayer Book will fall out of use in many parish churches within the next generation. We dare not lose prayers such as this.

It is one of my favourite prayers, because it expresses some of the deepest longings of my heart. It is also particularly rich, because it tells us a great deal about God, and enables us to bring all of this before God in prayer, in a few well-chosen words.

We are reminded that the God to whom we come at the close of the day is good, holy, and compassionate. He is the one who is the source of all our good longings. He is the God of truth, the giver of all good counsels. All the just works that we have been enabled to do have flowed from his hand, and from his Spirit within us.

We come to God that he may give us his peace. The peace that God gives us in Christ is not the same as the peace that the world understands. This is an interior peace, one that is not dependent on circumstances — on how tired we are, or how discouraged, distracted, or dismayed. This is the peace that passes all human understanding.

There is an echo here of the promise of Jesus in Matthew 11.28: “Come unto me, all that travail and are heavy laden, and I will refresh you.” Many of us find ourselves weary and overburdened from time to time, particularly when we are caught up in all the responsibilities of ministry. This prayer can help us, at the end of each day, to hear again Jesus’s quiet, insistent call to us to seek his pace for our lives.

The challenge for many of us is to adjust the busyness of our lives to the pace of God. This may well mean a letting go of some of the relentless rushing around, the constant clamour, the preoccupation from morning to night with tasks to be accomplished. This prayer calls us back to God’s priorities; to his way, not our way.

The fruit of this rest and peace is that our hearts are again set to follow Christ’s commandments. We are renewed in our first call, which is to seek the Kingdom of God and his righteousness. But there is more. Our hearts are also released from fear and anxiety, as Jesus promises in John 14.27: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”

This deep inner peace holds us firm through all the turbulence of daily life. It is the still centre, which will keep our hearts in rest and quietness.

The depth of this prayer is extraordinary. It is a prayer that we can use daily throughout our lives, without ever losing interest in it, or finding that it no longer has resonance in our hearts.

For me, this is a great contemplative prayer; a true prayer, because it draws us directly to God. It enables us to grow in truthfulness before God, as we pray these words, again and again, and reflect on what they are saying to our souls. It is a prayer for today’s world, a prayer for all those who, in a frantic way of living, long to be anchored in that still centre, in the contemplative heart.

The Revd Ian Cowley is
Spirituality Co-ordinator for the diocese of Salisbury, and the author of The Contemplative Minister (BRF, 2015).

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