I came to appreciate the poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke while in seminary. I had read some of his poems before in literature classes and his Letters to a Young Poet had been on my permanent ‘to read’ pile for quite sometime, but during one semester at seminary I took my Sabbaths at the sister seminary on campus. The Vancouver School of Theology houses the Thomas Merton Reading Room in their library. I would go, find a quite corner and listen to cassette tapes of Merton’s lectures to novice monks. Sometimes he spoke about the Catholic faith or Cistercian vows. Most often he lectured on literature. I remember hearing a lecture he gave on Rilke where he read a single poem in a couple of English translations and then in the German so that his students could hear the sounds and get the sense of it. The German sang while Merton read it.
I do not know German so my enjoyment of Rilke is mediated to me through a translator. Mark Burrows does a deft job of bringing these poems to life in his publication ofPrayers of a Young Poet. Between September 20th and October 14th, 1899, Rilke composed sixty-eight poems utilizing the voice of an old Russian Orthodox monk. These poems would later be published as the first part of The Book of Hours; however these early poems are arranged chronologically here with Rilke’s prose narration. This makes the entire collection one cohesive work and Rilke gives interpretive clues to understanding some of these poems. Sometimes Rilke gives the setting and occasion for each poem and even the subject troubling the mind of the monk.
Burrows includes an introductory essay and an Afterword on reading and translating Rilke. These essays themselves are worth the price of the book, but the real treat is reading Burrows translations. This is the first time these poems have been translated into English in this format and there is a freshness to them.
These poems are prayer poems. Rilke’s prayers (or the prayer of the old monk of the poems) dovetails nicely with my own prayers in places. Rilke’s monk is full of spiritual longing, sees the transcendence of God and the interconnection of all things. At other points Rilke’s meanings are opaque and challenging. Poetry like this is not made for quick consumption but should be carefully chewed and digested. There is a lot here.
Rilke’s monk does not address God directly but calls him, most often, “You.” Here is  from this collection:
You, darkness from which I come,
I love you more than the flame
that bounds the world,
in a single ring
beyond which no creature knows of it.
But the darkness seizes everything,
floods and flames–
how it grasps them,
people and powers . . .
And it is possible that a great strength
stirs in my neighborhood:
I believe in nights.
This poem and others speak of God–transcendent and immanent. however Rilke also explores the themes of poetry and iconography, death and mortality, faith and love, doubts and questions and the solitary self. I love the words of these poems for the way they play in my ears. This is really a beautiful collection written by a young Rilke (before he wrote Letters to a Young Poet). I found Rilke’s old monk fascinating, occasionally irreverent (or perhaps just odd) but always interesting. I would not consult Rilke’s monk for spiritual guidance, except at one point: the poetic voice of these poems prays honest prayers and does not hide behind platitudes and pretense. These are simple and beautiful offerings.
I highly recommend this book to any fellow lover of poetry or appreciator of Rilke. I give this book five stars: ★★★★★
Thank you to Paraclete Press for providing me a copy of this book in exchange for this review.
I know it has been quite some time since I included my prayer reflections. Life has been busy but I aim to renew the practice. This is my prayer reflection on John 2:1-11, the lectionary text for today.
Six stone jars stood empty.
The had held the water
for the washing of hands.
Now they sat hollow in the entry way.
Mother Mary had come and
Defend the honor of the hosts.
May no one know the limits of their hospitality,
that they invited guests but did not have enough.
Six stone jars stood empty.
They had held the water
for the washing of hands.
You had them filled to the brim.
And when they poured them out.
Wine flowed–better than any wine
the guest had, had before. the chief steward
was full of wonder (though he did not know the source).
It is my privilege to review the new Pastorum Series Collection from Logos Bible Software. Logos Bible Software makes the most comprehensive Bible software on the market and they’re always thinking of new resources to add to their library and creative ways they can help lay people, pastors and students get the most out of the Bible. Here are resources for pastors that will save time and add depth to your preaching and your worship service.
The Pastorum Series help pastors (and other worship planners) as they prepare sermons and plan Sunday worship. This collection promises to jump-start sermon preparation time and give some creative suggestions for delivery and application. The seven books in this collection include:
400 Prayers for Preachers, with Slides
300 Quotations for Preachers, with Slides
Study, Apply, Share: Mark
Study, Apply, Share: Luke
Study, Apply, Share: Philippians
Study, Apply, Share: Hebrews
Study, Apply, Share: James
Elliot Ritzema edits two books, one gathering quotations, the other prayers from the Christian tradition . Jeffrey Miller compiles sermon guides which help you delve deeply into the passage and focus delivery. I will look at Miller’s resources in my next post. Here I want to take a close look at what Ritzema’s quotation and prayer collections add to worship planning. Both of his resources denote that they are for ‘preachers’ but worship leaders and anyone who has significant input into worship planning can also benefit from these resources. I know Elliot personally (you can find a link to his blog on the right) which makes me a little biased, but I have tried to assess these resources based on their usefulness for church life.
Can I Quote You On That?
Proverbs 25:11 says that, “a word aptly spoken is like an apple of gold in a setting of silver.” In 300 Quotations for Preachers (with Slides) Ritzema has collected a number of apt words from across the Christian tradition. There are theological voices as diverse as Augustine and James Arminius, patristic and occasional pagans, medieval theologians like Anselm and Bernard of Clairvaux and Puritans like Thomas Watson, Richard Baxter and John Owen. And more! Each of the quotations is paired with a relevant scripture passages and suggested preaching themes. Additionally, there are also slides included which could be copied and saved (or just cut and pasted) straight into your presentation software and used on Sunday morning (you can also send it right to your PowerPoint).
Here is a screenshot of this resource in Logos with the accompanying slide:
Unlike print quotation collections, Ritzema does not repeat quotations under every relevant theme (these resources are fully searchable, so that would be redundant). I am still using Logos 4 and could search this resource using the Logos search tool, and the ‘cited by’ tool pulled up particular scripture passages. However, in Logos 5 this resources (and the prayer collection below) is further integrated into the Logos ecosystem. In the Sermon Starter Guide, you can find resources and quotations that relate to preaching theme and scripture passages (one more reason why I should just go ahead and update).
. . .The Words to Pray
Readers of this blog will know that I love prayer collections and occasionally share prayers here. especially as they relate to the liturgical calendar. The saints of old have a lot of wisdom to impart and their words draw us into deeper communion with God. Like 300 Quotations, 400 Prayers For Preachers (with Slides) is remarkable for the breadth of material that Ritzema draws on. There are prayers from the Bible, from Patristic sources, from medieval saints and orthodox liturgies, from Protestant Reformers and Nineteenth Century Evangelicals. No matter what your theological tradition is, you will find prayers which deeply resonate with you and your church.
While Ritzema culls together diverse voices, these prayers were selected specifically for use in worship. Each of the prayers are 100-150 words long (or shorter) and are paired with pertinent scriptures and preaching themes. There are prayers that call us to worship, prayers which focus on theological themes, prayers that address particular events in the life of the church (i.e. Baptism, prayers before communion, prayers for consecration of buildings or leaders, etc.). The prayers come with an accompanying slide which reproduces a significant phrase from the prayer.
Because seeing is believing here is a screenshot of a prayer from Richard Baxter, and the accompanying slide:
I liked both of these resources especially for the breadth and depth I found here. Often Christian quote books have quotes of dubious origin which are basically just a Christian overlay of motivational posters. In choosing to draw on the deep well of the Christian history, Ritzema has collected wise words and beautiful prayers which will enrich your church life. Pastors and other leaders who plan Sunday worship will find these a rich resource, particularly if they already are using Logos as they prepare for Sundays.
My small wish is that these quotes and prayers were also tagged according to the liturgical calendar as well. As these resources are made to augment the liturgy (whatever your church normally does in a worship service is the liturgy), it seems like the logical next step. Of course with scripture passages included, you can relate these prayers to the Lectionary so liturgical churches can still make ready use of these resources as well.
My next post will look deeper at Jeffrey Miller’s resources and make some comments on the collection as a whole.
(Notice of material connection: I received this resource from Logos in exchange for my honest review).
I was privilaged this morning to attend the baptism of two women in our congregation and offer up this prayer of thanksgiving in response to baptism (theirs and my own). Baptism is sometimes called the rite of Christian Initiation and it celebrates the entry into new life in Christ (and death to our old way of life). Sometimes we associate ‘new life’ with Easter, but this is an ‘ordinary time’ theme as we learn to walk in newness of life in all our life.
Giver of Life!
To You we offer Thanks and Praise.
You knew us, before You fashioned us and You loved us anyway–
and lovingly You made us.
Thank You that in the waters of our Baptism we celebrate
our renewal, our remaking, our entry into new life.
Today marks the second consecutive Sunday that I am missing church because I have to work. In this day and age, this is a reality for many people, my experience is hardly unique but I hate missing church. But as I look at the Lectionary for today I am greeted by the opening of the Psalm 111: “Praise the Lord! I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart, in the company of the upright, in the congregation.” Despite not being there in body I am there in Spirit and I am thankful for the truth of the rest of this psalm which proclaims all the God has done on behalf of his people, his covenant faithfulness to them and exhorts us to practice the ‘fear of the Lord’ (reverent awe and deference to God in how you live your life). This prayer is my own meditation on this psalm.
Creator, Sustainer and Lover of My Soul–
As your people gather today and lift their voice as one in praise for your name,
count my voice among their chorus. I give thanks to You!
It is your mighty work and righteousness that endures forever,
And you are famous for your wondrous deeds and abundant mercy.
Look at all you have done!
Thank you that you have blessed us with an inheritance among the nations,
we are your people and we live in light of All you have done for us.
We have seen your faithfulness in all that you have done–
in your mighty works,
in your tender love towards us,
in all your judgments and precepts.
Teach us to walk in your ways, ever following the paths you have laid out.
You are are Redeemer, our Savior and the one that has brought us into Covenant-Relationship with You!
All praise to Your Name for all You are, and all You do.