Monday, May 20, 2013

A truly humble prayer

1 Timothy 1:15-17 (NIV)

Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners — of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life. Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen.
It’s been a while since I ran across a passage that doubled as inspiration for one of my favorite hymns, but I can’t read Paul’s words in this letter to Timothy without hearing the melody to “Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise.”

If I remember correctly, this is the first (perhaps only?) hymn my mother learned to play on the piano. That’s one of the reasons I chose it to be the first song I taught to the tone chime choir I directed when we lived in Fulton. (That the fourth-graders who started with me are graduating high school this weekend makes me feel far older than my own kid being nine years old.) The melody still stirs my soul.

The lyrics, a truly humble prayer, also serve as useful in my faith life. Reading, reflecting on and even singing the words (when no one can hear, of course) helps center my mind on the kind of person I want to be, helps define my beliefs and the relationship I intend to have between myself and God. And if you don’t mind the archaic pronouns (thy, thou, thee and so on), the entire thing holds up incredibly well.
Immortal, invisible, God only wise,
In light inaccessible hid from our eyes,
Most blessed, most glorious, the Ancient of Days,
Almighty, victorious, Thy great name we praise.

Unresting, unhasting, and silent as light,
Nor wanting, nor wasting, Thou rulest in might;
Thy justice, like mountains, high soaring above
Thy clouds, which are fountains of goodness and love.

To all, life Thou givest, to both great and small;
In all life Thou livest, the true life of all;
We blossom and flourish as leaves on the tree,
And wither and perish — but naught changeth Thee.

Great Father of glory, pure Father of light,
Thine angels adore Thee, all veiling their sight;
Of all Thy rich graces this grace, Lord, impart
Take the veil from our faces, the vile from our heart.

All laud we would render; O help us to see
’Tis only the splendor of light hideth Thee,
And so let Thy glory, almighty, impart,
Through Christ in His story, Thy Christ to the heart.
Take the veil from my face, take the vile from my heart. Poetry. So, too, is Paul’s hope his life might be a testament to God’s patience, that he might live for God’s glory. Sometimes when I don’t know what to pray or write about, passages like this come along and fill my heart and mind with the exact words I didn’t know I was seeking. I consider this its own gift from God, and I hope I can in some small way take that blessing and turn it into praise.

A prayer for May 20:

Lord, powerful creator, you have given life to everything. But not only do we have this life on Earth to enjoy and fulfill, but you also have promised life beyond our human existence. I don’t understand why I should be so privileged as to be a beneficiary of your love and forgiveness, given my many imperfections, but I have faith in your steadfastness, your permanence, your glory. Guide me through this life and into the next, and help me, as I am able, to be one of your lights in the world. Amen.

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