Many Protestant congregations mark the new year with John Wesley’s Covenanting Service.
Wesley is, of course, the founder of British Methodism.
A “covenant” is like a contract, but more binding. Many people make New Year’s Resolutions -- if cynically, knowing that we will soon break them. But a covenant is more than a resolution. Once you make a covenant there’s no backing out.
These are the traditional words of Wesley’s Covenanting Prayer.
I am no longer my own, but thine. Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt; put me to doing, put me to suffering. Let me be employed for thee or laid aside for thee, exalted for thee or brought low for thee; let me be full, let me be empty; let me have all things, let me have nothing; free me to heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal.
And now, O glorious and blessed God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, thou art mine, and I am thine. So be it. And the covenant which I have made on earth, let it be ratified in Heaven.
If you find that wording archaic, it’s because it’s patterned on the King James Bible, written in Shakespeare’s time. Various attempts have been made to modernize the language. Some have gained semi-official status; some are off the wall.
Here’s my attempt, sticking fairly closely to the original structure:
I no longer claim an individual identity; I take your life as my model. I accept whatever roles you set for me, whatever companions you choose for me. Whether it requires physical or social skills; whether it leads to joy or to suffering; whether I am up to my ears in conflict or put on hold indefinitely; whether I shall be famous or ignored, whether my cup shall overflow or be empty, whether I have abundance or poverty -- free me from self-centred preoccupations so that I may serve only your goals.
And now you are mine and I am yours, for better or for worse, ‘till we become one body, one mind, one flesh. And may this mortal covenant be acceptable to the collective consciousness of the universe.
You’ll hear echoes of wedding liturgies in that version – for a wedding is also a covenant.
And then I starting thinking of other kinds of covenants. And it seemed to me – please don’t read this as irreverence – that one of the strongest bonds we know is between humans and their dogs. So I tried writing Wesley’s Prayer from a dog’s perspective:
Once I was a dog, but now I put doggie things behind me. I shall be your faithful companion. I will obey your commands, even if they make no sense to me. I will devote myself to you, even if I suffer pain or indignity, even if I have to suppress my natural instincts. Whether I have lots of toys or none, lots of food or none; whether I receive love or neglect, whether I sleep in the garage or on your bed; I will no longer care, for I have thrown my lot in with yours, forever.
You are mine, and I am yours. I shall love you with all my heart, my soul, my strength. Nothing can come between us, till death do us part. And when it does, our special relationship will live on in your memory.
Copyright © 2020 by Jim Taylor. Non-profit use in congregations and study groups, and links from other blogs, welcomed; all other rights reserved.
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I received very few comments on last week’s column about midwinter days. Any that did come in were complimentary. “Beautiful,” Ralph Milton told me.
Isabel Gibson noted the quotation from Joan Chittister, “It is the glowing calm that comes over us when we finally surrender to the ultimate truth of creation: that there is a God, and we are not it…” and wondered “if Chittister was playing for a laugh at that final bit, but she (and you) got one.”
Isabel continued, “Indeed, I am not God and there is some calmness in reminding myself of that.
“Our coming year will bring some darkness: some anticipated, some that jumps out at us [JT: prophetic, given the events of this last week.] May it also bring some light.”
Bob Rollwagen connected the column with his hope for the future: “On New Year’s Eve, as our kids were going to bed, they observed their youngest, (6) still wide awake, eyes wide open looking into the darkness of his bedroom deep In thought. They wondered what events would be reported to them in the morning. He had been allowed to stay up later than normal and the quiet darkness seemed to give him a private time to imagine.
“It is the season for imagination. My nephew (a teacher), during a chat suggested that “ you cannot teach curiosity, you can provide opportunities to be curious ‘and then you observe and build.’ Education provides the blocks and a set of guidelines. It is curiosity that creates the dynamics illustrated by the finished product.”
After further comments about how several older generations have messed up the world, Bob concluded, “It is the curiosity of the six-year-old that give s me hope.”
Steve Roney wrote, “Lovely column on winter. You are absolutely right about the reason to value winter; having lived in the tropics, I missed it. The turning of the seasons gives an important sense of time and change. My brother and I, reminiscing some time ago, discovered that our fondest childhood memories were of winter.
“It could just stand to be a little shorter…”
Steve then continued, to challenge the letter by Gary Kenny disparaging the RCMP and its predecessor, Sam Steele’s North West Mounted Police: “Sadly, the Mounties have recently been the victim of revisionist history.”
This column is not a place, and does not intend to be a site, for point-by-point debates, which can go on forever. But Steve is right, I think, that there’s a tendency to rewrite history to conform to more recent standards and values. We – yes, including me – need to be cautious when debunking older understandings.
Maybe I’ll write a column about this, someday.
I missed, or overlooked, or lost somehow, a response from Rachel Prichard to the previous week’s column, that it ain’t over just because it’s over. Rachel wrote, “Your column reminded me of my dear nephew's funeral. He died far too early at age 17. My sister and brother-in-law were shattered but were deeply comforted by the support of the small Devon village they live in. Although they are not church goers the vicar opened the doors of the centuries-old village church to their totally unorthodox but warm and moving funeral. He presided and said at the beginning ‘The very walls of this church will be seeped with the words spoken today’. That was nearly 15 years ago and I still remember the deep feeling of peace that brought to me. I think of the 3-ft-thick stone walls and feel that part of Ben and all of us are there.”
As I write this, a cold front fills the valley. Snow burdens the trees and snaps branches. Cars slide off the roads into ditches. The original writer of Psalm 29 certainly did not have such scenes in mind, but he did address the feelings that accompany it.
1 Blow, blow, you winter winds.
Polish earth and sky with your power,
2 until every street and sidewalk is scoured clean,
until a whiter-than-snow earth reflects the brightness of the heavens.
3 The spirit of the Lord roars across the oceans;
it bursts upon the mountains,
and cascades down to the sea again.
4 The blast of the wind drowns out all other sounds;
the force of the wind drives the clouds like wild horses.
5 It bends birches and willows to the ground;
it breaks the strongest branches of the mighty oak.
6 Snowflakes swirl before the storm;
mice and gophers scurry for their holes.
7 Lightning skewers the sky;
8 Thunder rolls across the land;
the whole earth shivers.
9 Before the might of creation, nothing stands unbent;
The leaves fall off the trees;
the cities empty their streets;
The mountains hide their heads in clouds.
10 God lives in the storm;
and surfs on the wind like an ocean wave.
11 May the wind be always at our backs, Lord.
Lend the strength of the storm to your people.
Then we can weather the worst,
and come through to the calm on the other side.
For paraphrases of most of the psalms used by the Revised Common Lectionary, you can order my book Everyday Psalmsfrom Wood Lake Publishing, firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Wayne Irwin's “Churchweb Canada,” an inexpensive service for any congregation wanting to develop a web presence, with free consultation. http://wwwDOTchurchwebcanadaDOTca He’s also relatively inexpensive!
I recommend Isabel Gibson’s thoughtful and well-written blog, wwwDOTtraditionaliconoclastDOTcom. She also has lots of beautiful photos. Especially of birds.
Tom Watson writes a weekly blog called “The View from Grandpa Tom’s Balcony” -- ruminations on various subjects, and feedback from Tom’s readers. Write him at tomwatsoATgmailDOTcom (NB that’s “watso” not “watson”)
ALVA WOOD’S ARCHIVE
I have acquired (don’t ask how) the complete archive of the late Alva Wood’s collection of satiric and sometimes wildly funny columns about a mythical village’s misadventures. I’ve put them on my website: http://quixotic.ca/Alva-Wood-Archive. You’re welcome to browse. No charge. (Although maybe if I charged a fee, more people would find the archive worth visiting.)