prayers holy and secular

Rick Warren’s inaugural invocation reminds me of how strange it always is for me as a Baha’i to hear my Protestant brothers and sisters pray, whether extemporaneously or from a prepared text. Having grown up reciting prayers written by Baha’u’llah and rendered into Shoghi Effendi’s peerless, Biblically-inflected English, I always feel that one ought to refrain from personal prayer unless one’s utterance can match the power and elegance of, say, the King James psalms. But maybe God likes to hear our fumbling little attempts to speak from our hearts.

Elizabeth Alexander isn’t speaking to God; she’s speaking to the nation. And it’s disappointing, if not surprising, that such a dull, uninspiring poet was chosen to speak at a presidential inauguration. Why has the official poetry of our public functions become so incredibly lame? The Reverend Joseph Lowery, who followed her with the benediction, managed to be both stirring and funny and to do it in rhyming couplets. Wake up, Alexander!

On the other hand — Ms. Franklin… nice hat, ma’am.

Here is a prayer for America written by Baha’u’llah’s son, ‘Abdu’l-Baha:

O Thou kind Lord! This gathering is turning to Thee. These hearts are radiant with Thy love. These minds and spirits are exhilarated by the message of Thy glad-tidings. O God! Let this American democracy become glorious in spiritual degrees even as it has aspired to material degrees, and render this just government victorious. Confirm this revered nation to upraise the standard of the oneness of humanity, to promulgate the Most Great Peace, to become thereby most glorious and praiseworthy among all the nations of the world. O God! This American nation is worthy of Thy favors and is deserving of Thy mercy. Make it precious and near to Thee through Thy bounty and bestowal.

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3 Responses to prayers holy and secular

  1. Grambear says:

    For Pete’s sake is Warren so tone deaf to the occasion that he couldn’t refrainfrom ending with the Lord’s prayer?I expected it from Rev Lowry. But was funny, reverant, and seemed to hit the right note. And I am as sure as I am sitting here that such a benediction hasnever been heard at such a place before.And Aretha, the Church lady hat and all, rocked. In all a great day, I am all giddy and bubbly feeling.

  2. Grambear says:

    Alexander is actually a good poet, so I am assured by my friends in the pobiz. But an occsaional poem is supremely difficult to do. Try it. Write onefor Lincoln’s birthday. The poem is kind of flat. And her reading didn’t help, but better her than me trying to compose for that occasion. Rev Lowry did a better job!

  3. The Camel says:

    Hey, I don’t write poems at all. Hat’s off to anyone who can do it well. I’m just saying, Aretha, Rev. Lowery, and the Prez all brought their A-game, and if you’re the poet at hand, you gotta bring yours, too….

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