For many reasons I may write about at a separate time, I have been strongly drawn to Søren Kierkegaard the last few weeks. Specifically, I have been reading1 and praying his prayers. For those (like me) who slept through the 10 minute existential overview in your senior English class, Kierkegaard was a Danish philosopher / pot stirrer / theologian from the middle of the 19th century. On May 19, 1838, our good buddy Søren2 had an ecstatic experience, what he termed an “indescribable joy” at the emotional realization of something he had known intellectually his entire life, but never “processed” emotionally before: he was a found child of God.
Over the remaining 17 years of his life Søren would produce an avalanche of religious and philosophical writing, along with some good old fashioned shit-poasting3. Along with this writing came hundreds of prayers. Never collected in one central place, these were instead spread across his notes, journal articles, and other writings. In many cases, these prayers appear in places that would be uncomfortable for us to consider leaving a prayer, so engrained is the modern American idea that religion is something practiced on Sunday mornings or at home in private, never in conversation with someone at work or while striking up a conversation with another person waiting to get a car cleaned. These prayers tended to be categorized into four groups:
- The Trinity
- God the Father
- God the Son
- God the Holy Spirit
- Special Occasions
As I move through his prayers I will post a few of them here along with some thoughts. A word of warning before the following prayer: these were translated in 19544 back when scholars tended to translate ALL Christian writings into King James style English. Just deal with it lol.
That we may be faithful
Thou who in our earliest childhood hast received our promise, Thou to whom at baptism we gave our promise of faithfulness, Father in Heaven, grant that throughout our life we do not forget our promise, our engagement, that we do not forget to come to Thy wedding, whatever excuses we might find, these pretexts are indifferent things; the decisive thing for us would be that we didn’t come to the wedding.
This prayer echoes a long running theme from Kierkegaard; the idea of continual choosing. Life is not about individual, discrete actions that God will throw up on the board at the time of Judgement to see if you are able to qualify for eternal life in Heaven or instead take a one way ticket straight to Hell. Rather, it is the continuous flow of our constant and active choices to seek God at the wedding table. The outcome of those choices is not what is important. Consider a boy on a baseball team run by a coach that understands what youth sports should be about. No loving father cares that his son struck out with the game on the line (outside of the painful empathy every parent feels when their child is disappointed). No, the loving father recognizes that with the game on the line, with two outs and the bases loaded down by 2, the boy made the decision himself to step into the batters box to face the best pitcher in the league. The boy chose to stand in the box, with a lump of fear in his throat at the speed of the baseball and the weight of the moment. The boy himself chose to ignore the bad pitches, to step towards the pitcher rather than out of the box when he decided to trigger his swing. That he struck out despite continually making all of these right choices says nothing about his ability to grow into a man. If Sohei Ohtani can fan Mike Trout to win the World Baseball Championship with two belt high 100 MPH 4 seamer fastballs punctuated with a slider that would make Randy Johnson drool, why would anyone expect the boy to perform better?
It is the process at the plate that matters here, not the result. If any generic Master and Commander loving middle aged dad can do this for their son, imagine how much greater the love God the Father has for His own children!
Finally, notice the phrasing Kierkegaard uses to describe these excuses. Not evil. Not sinful. No, they are merely indifferent things. You snap at a coworker or your spouse not because the unbearable weight of sin has once again manifested itself, but because you were just exhausted and cranky after only getting 3 hours of sleep because your youngest daughter kept waking you up in the middle of the night to ask profoundly important questions like, “Why are whales so big?”5. As one of the most devoutly Christian and morally impressive people I have ever met is so fond of telling me, “Speak kindly to yourself”.
What is important is not the outcome, it is the process. To continuously choose to be faithful to God’s theological and moral commands.
Father God, teach us to continuously choose You, and to put our trust into God, the Holy Spirit for the outcome.
For you Bible nerds (oftentimes like myself, but not as much as I should like) that are looking for some scriptural backing, consider Psalm 15. The Psalm was used by pilgrams journeying to the Temple in Jerusalem and standing in line waiting for entrance6:
1 O LORD, who may abide in your tent Who may dwell on your holy hill?
2 Those who walk blamelessly, and do what is right, and speak the truth from their heart;
3 who do not slander with their tongue, and do no evil to their friends, nor take up a reproach against their neighbors;
4 in whose eyes the wicked are despised, but who honor those who fear the LORD; who stand by their oath even to their hurt;
5 who do not lend money at interest and do not take a bribe against the innocent.
Those who do these things shall never be moved.
New Revised Standard Version
In brief, the pilgrams would ask the priest the question in the first verse. The priest would respond with 10 moral traits (yes, this is a deliberate reference to Ten Commandments!) that those worthy of entering into the Temple share. The thing to note here is that in the original Hebrew, all the verbs reference continual action. One must always, continuously do these things. This is not a case of “did it once, checked the box, can move on”.
LeFevre, Perry. The Prayers of Kierkegaard. The University of Chicago Press, 1956 ↩
English desperately needs more badass letters like the Danish ø (slashed O) ↩
My normie wife informed during the editting process that most people don’t know the word “poast”. It is a word born in a land of utter wretchedness; that is to say, people on Twitter use it all the time to describe writing absurd or troll~y posts designed specifically for consumption within an “online context” like on Twitter or Facebook. ↩
Jens and Harry Thomson, World Church Fellows at the Chicago Theological Seminary ↩
Some bearded theology dork is going to challenge me over this because it downplays the gravity of Sin or some such nonsense. As a man coming to grips with having an undiagnosed mental disorder for the first 40 years of his life, I can assure you I am deeply aware of the cosmic implications Sin has on Creation. Sometimes being grouchy is just being grouchy. ↩
Brueggemann, Walter & Bellinger, William H. PSALMS. Cambridge University Press, 2014 ↩