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Speaking to the Soul: Lancelot’s Prayers

Speaking to the Soul: Lancelot’s Prayers

Commemoration of Lancelot Andrewes, Bishop and Scholar (1555-1626)


O my Lord, my Lord, I thank Thee for that I am, that I am alive, that I am rational: for nurture, preservation, governance: for education, citizenship, religion: for Thy gifts of grace, nature, estate: for redemption, regeneration, instruction: for calling, recalling, further calling manifold: for forbearance, longsuffering, long longsuffering towards me, many times, many years, until now: for all good offices I have received, good speed I have gotten: for any good thing done: for the use of things present, thy promise and my hope touching the fruition of the good things to come: for my parents honest and good, teachers gentle, benefactors always to be had in remembrance, colleagues likeminded, hearers attentive, friends sincere, retainers faithful: for all who have stood me in good stead by their writings, their sermons, conversations, prayers, examples, rebukes, wrongs: for these things and all other, which I wot of, which I wot not of, open and secret, things I remember, things I have forgotten withal, things done to me after my will or yet against my will, I confess to Thee and bless Thee and give thanks unto Thee, and I will confess and bless and give thanks to Thee all the days of my life. What thanks can I render to God again for all the benefits that He hath done unto me?  – From Lancelot Andrewes’ private manuscript of prayers, published posthumously.



Lancelot Andrewes is undoubtedly someone I would consider a master wordsmith. Growing up reading the King James version of the Bible, I grew accustomed to the language of that time and the beauty it contained. For me, the Psalms in contemporary English are not really poetic, while the Nativity story from Luke is best presented by Linus (of Peanuts fame in the language) that has become less and less comprehensible to modern generations. To me, though, the new stuff just does not sound right. I can do Rite II in the 1979 BCP, but my heart still lies with the 1928 and earlier, just for the beauty of the language.


Where Lancelot Andrewes comes in is that he was a member of the committee who prepared the King James version. The man was incredible: fluent in 18 languages including Greek, Latin, and Hebrew, he also used the vocabulary of the English language to great advantage. Yes he was a bishop, and a scholar, but also a guide, a person interested in his fellow man, one who was also seemingly connected to the world around him that God had created, and the soul who express his intimacy with God through his prayers.


Andrews was a  prolific writer, although his very erudite sermons are not read much less heard outside seminaries. After his death in 1626, a large manuscript of prayers he had written came to light and was privately published. As I read through some the prayers, even a casual reading, I saw that this was a soul unafraid before God and yet humble enough to be honest.  His prayers in the manuscript were intended for himself and God alone. Some pages of the manuscript seemed to have a greater number of scuff marks from the hand that opened the page and prayed the prayers. 


The prayer at the opening of this reflection is one that struck me as one any of us could pray but probably would never actually do so. How many of us would actually be so forthcoming about acknowledging the wrongs we had done or the gifts we have received? We often pray for those we love and those we know who are ill, in grief or trouble, but how many of us remember to thank God for the gifts we have received from our teachers, mentors, and parents? We remember our friends, but do we stop and mention the gift that those friends have given us over the years, gifts that have enriched our lives and encouraged us when we most needed it? Andrewes admitted that there were things he had forgotten, things he had done or not done, for which he needed to repent, but his trust that God had forgiven him showed an understanding of grace that we don’t always remember or even fully comprehend.


Prayer is something we are encouraged to do. It is a line of communication between us and God that we establish and nurture as a necessary part of our lives. I often wish Christians had something like the Buddhist prayer wheels, a device that could be set in motion by turning the wheel and the spin of carried the prayers to heaven. Someone would probably come along not too long afterwards and give another push that kept the wheel turning sending up yet more prayers. These people were on their way to work, the well, the market, or any one of a number of errands, but they were confident as they went about their life their prayers were still going up. The Celts had a prayer for just about any every occasion. The Jews often pray beginning with “Blessed are you, Lord God of the universe, who has …” The prayer continues with a thanksgiving for something given by God that affected something else in life. 


Christians basically have two forms of prayer, with subsets of each. First there is the spontaneous prayer which in some denominations is basically the only acceptable form other than the Lord’s Prayer. A subset of this is the arrow prayer, short bursts of “Lord help me with…” or a quick petition for mercy for someone else. Episcopalians and Anglicans use the Book of Common Prayer which owes some of its great beauty to men like Lancelot Andrewes,


Written prayers have a lot to commend them. Many feel less awkward about praying something that someone else has written that touches their heart and puts them in closer communion with God. Many relish the language, some of it from a bygone era, that is somehow comforting and familiar. Some of it is designed for family use or even in a large community, while some can be done individually with their own petitions included. The point is, though, to pray, whether for ourselves, for those in need or those who have passed on. Andrews used his manuscript of prayers as a focus.  His prayers were intensified by his writing them down as he prayed and returning to those prayers at various times. For me, that writing of prayers rather than just shooting an arrow or possibly reading one from a prayer book, might be a more genuine form that would make me more mindful of what it is I am saying to God, not for God’s sake but for my own


The lesson I learned from Lancelot Andrewes is the power of words and their beauty. Had he not written them down, and merely spoken them aloud or even silently, they would have been lost to history and we could not read them now and find ourselves praying with him. Many saints and mystics have written prayers, or have had others write their prayers down, and those are very powerful in of themselves. I doubt Lancelot Andrewes ever planned on anyone else reading his prayers, yet he wrote the for himself and God and we are the beneficiaries of those prayers.


I have not been very familiar with Lancelot Andrewes but I think now I need to dig into his life and words a bit deeper. Will I start writing my prayers down, focusing on each word with intention and attention, and return to some of those prayers as needed? I think it might be worth a shot. I doubt that after my death anyone would care to publish them, for I am nowhere near the wordsmith or deeply spiritual person that Lancelot Andrewes was, but I can look to him as an inspiration and do my humble best to follow him in his life of prayer.



Linda Ryan co-mentors 2 EfM Online groups and keeps the blog Jericho’s Daughter . She lives in the Diocese of Arizona and is proud to be part of the Church of the Nativity in North Scottsdale

Image: Wikimedia Commons public domain



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Ann Fontaine

I love the psalms as found in A New Zealand Prayer Book The writers cast the pronouns for God into the 3rd person instead of being locked into the choice of “he” etc all the time. The old stuff was beautiful but I can no longer hear the beauty through the KJV language. The commitment of the Episcopal Church is to have the prayers in the language of the people – we believe that language and praying shapes believing.


I agree wholeheartedly with you about the modernization of the Psalms. The rich, lyrical “archaic” language transports us out of self and the world, a tool towards communion. 1979 liturgy is ok but akso prefer and love the older version for the same reason.

[Lexiann: please sign your first and last name when commenting. Thanks, Editor.]

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