Then & Now

Old prayers for the new year

For this end-of-the-year post, we asked our favorite historians and writers to share prayers from the past that could serve as guides for our present. 

From Martin E. Marty:

Lord, keep us steadfast in Your Word;
Curb those who by deceit and sword
Would wrest the kingdom from Your Son
And bring to naught all He has done.

O Comforter of priceless worth,
Send peace and unity on earth;
Support us in our final strife
And lead us out of death to life.

full text by Martin Luther

From Amy DeRogatis:

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear? . . .

full text by Mary Oliver, 1992

From Nicole C. Kirk:

When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone . . .

full text by Howard Thurman

From John Wilsey and Phillip Luke Sinitiere:

We pray tonight, O God, for confidence in ourselves, our powers and our purposes in this beginning of a New Year. . . .

full text by W. E. B. Du Bois

From Paul Putz:

I pray that every passing hour
Your hearts may bruise and beat
I pray that every step you take
May bruise and burn your feet!
. . . I pray that you may live to writhe
'Neath every pang we've known
Then haply may Almighty God
Spare the supreme avenging rod
And say the miles that you had trod
Shall of themselves atone!

full text of “A New Year's Prayer for 1915” (from WWI)

From Carol Howard Merritt:

Open unto me—light for my darkness.
Open unto me—courage for my fear. . . .

full text by Howard Thurman

From Janine Giordano Drake:

Blessed Michael, Archangel,
defend us in the hour of conflict;

be our safeguard against the wickedness and snares of the devil.
May God restrain him, we humbly pray;
and do thou, O Prince of the heavenly host,
by the power of God, thrust, down to hell, Satan,
and with him the other wicked spirits
who wander through the world for the ruin of souls.

Translation used in Ireland of a prayer from the Latin mass

Our weekly feature Then and Now harnesses the expertise of American religious historians who care about the cities of God and the cities of humans. It's published in partnership with the Kripke Center of Creighton University and edited by Edward J. Blum and Kate Bowler.

Edward J. Blum

Edward J. Blum teaches American history at San Diego State University and is coauthor (with Paul Harvey) of The Color of Christ: The Son of God and the Saga of Race in America.

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Kate Bowler

Kate Bowler, who teaches American Christianity at Duke Divinity School, is author most recently of No Cure for Being Human: (And Other Truths I Need to Hear).

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