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Lent series: ‘Push back the horizons of our hopes’

by
17 March 2023

Chine McDonald continues our Lent series with a prayer probably not written by Sir Francis Drake

Chronicle/Alamy

Drake and the Golden Hind (centre), portrayed in a colourised version of a map of his travels by Theodor de Bry (1528-98)

Drake and the Golden Hind (centre), portrayed in a colourised version of a map of his travels by Theodor de Bry (1528-98)

Dis­turb us, Lord, when we are too well pleased with our­selves,
When our dreams have come true because we have dreamed too lit­tle,
When we arrived safe­ly because we sailed too close to the shore.

Dis­turb us, Lord, when with the abun­dance of things we pos­sess we have lost our thirst for the waters of life;
Hav­ing fall­en in love with life, we have ceased to dream of eter­ni­ty
And in our efforts to build a new earth, we have allowed our vision of the new Heaven to dim.

Dis­turb us, Lord, to dare more bold­ly,
To ven­ture on wider seas where storms will show your mas­tery;
Where los­ing sight of land, we shall find the stars.

We ask You to push back the hori­zons of our hopes;
And to push into the future In strength, courage, hope, and love.

Attrib­uted to Sir Fran­cis Drake, 1577

 

MY SON, now ten months old, is in those magical days of becoming more and more mobile. He’s gone from being barely able to hold himself up to sitting down with a perfectly straight back, head held high. Having cautiously made his first tentative crawls, he can now zoom across the room on all fours.

Seeing him scurry across the nursery when he spies me at the door at pick-up time is one of my life’s most joyous moments. My heart never fails to feel like it might burst at the sight of him.

At home, his increased mobility has opened up the world. Where once he was confined to whichever room in which he was placed, now he can navigate his way around corners and through doorways. Before this new mobility, he would always stop at the doorway between the living room and the hallway — the gateway to the rest of the house — cautiously observing the line that must have felt like a boundary to the great beyond.

 

THIS prayer, which has been widely — but almost certainly incorrectly — attributed to the great adventurer Sir Francis Drake, reminds me of the wonder of new worlds, expanding horizons, increasing ambition. When you have been a Christian your whole life, as I have, it is easy to forget to feel that sense of wonder at the greatness of God and creation. We forget what it’s like to know the contrast between the confines of one room — the familiar — and the freedom that comes with being able to navigate the new and the wondrous.

The prayer was probably written, not in the 16th century but in the 20th (it appears in The Minister’s Manual, Volume 37, from 1967, attributed there to the Revd Dr M. K. W. Heicher). But it is easy to see why the idea of the association with Drake caught on; and to recognise the desire, portrayed in the prayer, to be shaken out of a sense of being too pleased with ourselves, of dreaming too little, of becoming so comfortable with the things we have, and the things we do, that we fail to seek adventure and wonder.

The prayer reminds us to dream big. It’s an appeal to a God of greatness; a request to disturb us out of a satisfaction with the ordinary. For me, personally, life can often feel pretty good. Perhaps, if I’m honest, it is at times of deep, existential questioning or real-life crises that I cling to God.

My perspective on God’s greatness shifts according to how much I am in need of a big God, able to do the impossible. When life’s pretty good, when I’m perfectly happy with the room in which I find myself — just as my toddler was, before he discovered the great beyond — I have little need of God. Nor does the idea of being disturbed out of this state of contentment and satisfaction sound appealing.

 

FOR many, there is a caricature of British — and, especially, English — Christianity as reserved, sensible, comfortable; a faith of the wealthy, and the powerful. It’s perfectly understandable that we might have fallen in love with life and, as the prayer puts it, “ceased to dream of eternity”.

I remember, many years ago when I attended an affluent church in an affluent suburb in an affluent nation, praying that I would experience a sense of increasing discomfort. I longed to be shaken out of a Christian faith that was “nice”.

I hungered and thirsted after more fellow-travellers in my church community for whom following Jesus involved some kind of cost — those who came from backgrounds where their families had experienced real need, whether physical, financial, emotional, or spiritual.

Perhaps selfishly, I hoped that witnessing their faith in God — a faith which felt validated and tangible, precisely because of the struggle it represented — might demonstrate to me the reality of God. I wanted to be surrounded by people who weren’t like me, even though I feared the discomfort that might bring.

 

I LONG for my Christian life to be an adventure of faith. I never want to lose sight of the beauty of the simple things: prayer, community, hope. But I also want my horizons to be expanded; to be disturbed out of a sense of being comfortable with the ordinariness of faith — I want to experience the breathtaking, the numinous, the all-surpassing wonder of God.

Like both my baby and Sir Francis Drake (who, even if he didn’t write the prayer, dreamed of new worlds, and had the courage to set out in search of them), perhaps the big adventure starts with the next small step.
 

Chine McDonald is a writer, broadcaster, and director of Theos.

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