“How many collections to you guys take up each week?” A Methodist friend of mine whispered this to my parents thirty years ago or so during a visit to our Episcopal church when he read “collect for peace” in the order of service.
Maybe my teenage friend was onto something. Why can’t collect — the “collect” with the funny pronunciation — be a verb? Verbs come of nouns all the time. We Google; may we not collect?
I discovered two ways to collect more. First, the Book of Common Prayer dedicates a hundred pages to just collects. The collects are grouped as “traditional” and “contemporary,” and they cover a variety of subjects. (I’ve always wondered why the book has no index.) The collects are fun to read as small prayers developed around seeds of thought.
Then there are homegrown collects. In Sacred Reading: the Ancient Art of Lectio Divina, Michael Casey recommends that we develop simple collects as a way of “encapsulating the experience of a particular reading. . .” (85). When read again later, these collects allow a possible return to a similar place along the lectio divina prayer continuum.
Casey recommends that we keep it simple, and he recommends what he describes as the basic structure of liturgical prayer in this regard:
[Address to God]
1. Theme from the text (often mentioned in past tense)
2. Petition drawn from the text (present tense)
3. Further development of the petition (future tense)
Reading Casey’s suggestion made me realize that I have been drawn to devotional literature that includes prayer. I think such devotions appeal to me because they demonstrate the same natural movement of the heart from meditation to prayer that is enshrined in the lectio divina pattern (meditatio to oratio). Examples of such literature are Thomas a Kempis’s The Imitation of Christ and Thomas Merton’s Thoughts in Solitude. The Bible’s book of Nehemiah also comes to mind (and it’s fun to think of Nehemiah as a “contemplative”).
I tried writing my first collect this morning. Here it is, based on my thoughts after reading Proverbs 18:1 in the Revised English Bible (“A solitary person pursues his own desires; he quarrels with every sound policy.”):
My intimate God, thank you for your hermits and other lovers of solitude. Please help me to use solitude after your fashion. Keep me from crankiness, vanity, and inappropriate eccentricity, and give me patience with interruptions. Remind me of what Anthony discovered for himself: that my solitude is for others and not for myself, and that my solitude, if directed to you, may engage me more fittingly with my fellows. Thanks, Lord.
(You see I’m a believer in eccentricity, and I think it has its place. In prayer, I’m usually honest enough to admit in theory that one can overdo it.)
Notice that the prayer is not, strictly speaking, a development of Proverbs 18:1, the verse I was reflecting on. I go off on a tangent — a line of thought that only begins with the verse and that has more to do with my own heart and situation. As Casey says, our collects encapsulate experiences in prayer and not the readings that foster them.
Okay, so my first collect is not ready for the Book of Common Prayer, but one doesn’t have be an ordained Episcopal minister to have his writing considered for its next edition. Queen Elizabeth I wrote prayers, and, possibly, at least one of hers made it into the Book of Common Prayer after some editing. It’s my favorite prayer in the book, so I don’t think it was only her position as Supreme Governor of the Church of England that led to her stuff being published.
By the way, simplicity isn’t everything in a collect, and I have noticed that an Episcopal collect usually ends with a flourish. Most of the “traditional” collects end with some variation of: “through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.”
That’s a mouthful for a private collect. Although collects can help return me to a place somewhere between meditatio and oratio, I can’t forget that they are addressed to God. I’ll probably keep my endings simple since I don’t want to contribute to the illusion that I’m signing off. (Amen.)