water color by Joan Miller

The Best Old Prayer You Never Heard Of

Ken Wilson
Aug 7, 2018 · 3 min read

Goes like this …

God be in my head and in my understanding

God be in my eyes and in my looking

God be in my mouth and in my speaking

God be in my heart and in my thinking

God be at my end and at my departing

Isn’t this a dandy? It’s so old we don’t know who first composed it. Copyright never claimed, royalties for use not required. That also means there’s no worrying we’ll soon find out it was a guy who harassed his female assistant because he could. It first appeared in print five hundred years ago in an English region called Sarum, so its official name is The Sarum Prayer. (OK. Some of you have heard of it, but not many.) It’s so old that people back then thought heads were for understanding and hearts were for thinking — which sounds so appealing, doesn’t it, in the age of information overload?

What about this little gem is not to love?

It’s so memorable: head, eyes, mouth, heart, end —easy to keep track of. Speaking of body parts, it’s physical — right here in our bodies where we live most of the time. I’d say it’s concrete, except that we’re made of flesh and blood.

And modest, not an easy thing to be around God-talk. The prayer invokes a divine presence allowed to be whatever the divine presence might actually be, whether or not we can name, let alone define it/him/her/they. But it’s not so generic as to shy away from a brazen hope that such a divine presence could and would (especially by invitation) be in us — in varying modes of our actual operating (understanding, looking, speaking, thinking, departing.)

Old, memorable, physical, modest, and mystical. So mystical in fact, that if, for any reason, you were undergoing a psychiatric examination you might not want to mention that you have been asking God to be in your various body parts to see what that’s like. Wait till you pass the exam, then mention it, if you must, to a trusted friend after your second beer — or if you can’t stop at two beers, after your last beer, because for my money, this would work great as one of those handy AA prayers.

Yes, mystical and curious. Isn’t that the stubborn point of praying anyway? Curiosity? If there were a God, what would it be like to have (or to notice) a little flowing-through-me proximity? Wouldn’t it lessen the boredom and jazz up the whole being-alive experience? Barring that, wouldn’t it just help us get through the day?

And so I’m pleased to have possibly introduced you to The Best Old Prayer You Never Heard Of. Go ahead. Take it for a spin if you’re so moved.

God be in my head and in my understanding

God be in my eyes and in my looking

God be in my mouth and in my speaking

God be in my heart and in my thinking

God be at my end and at my departing

Ken Wilson and Emily Swan are co-pastors of Blue Ocean Faith, Ann Arbor, a Jesus-centered, inclusive church. Visit us at solusjesus.com. Ken is preparing a book on The Sarum Prayer to be published soon.

Solus Jesus

Solus Jesus: A Theology of Resistance, is the place to…

Solus Jesus

Solus Jesus: A Theology of Resistance, is the place to explore a new approach to Christianity. Emily Swan & Ken Wilson are co-pastors of Blue Ocean Faith, Ann Arbor (a2blue.org).

Ken Wilson

Written by

Co-Author with Emily Swan of Solus Jesus: A Theology of Resistance, and co-pastor of Blue Ocean Faith, Ann Arbor, a progressive, inclusive church (a2blue.org).

Solus Jesus

Solus Jesus: A Theology of Resistance, is the place to explore a new approach to Christianity. Emily Swan & Ken Wilson are co-pastors of Blue Ocean Faith, Ann Arbor (a2blue.org).

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