'Hear Us, Almighty God . . .'

I know I’m not the only Jane Austen fan who wishes the great English author had been able to complete more novels before her early death. But I didn’t know until a short time ago that three prayers she wrote for use in evening family devotions still exist.

Christian author Terry Glaspey has gathered these prayers into a lovely little illustrated book titled “The Prayers of Jane Austen.” As Glaspey notes, these prayers make clear that, while “many biographers have downplayed the faith aspect of her life, the unprejudiced reader finds it abundantly clear that she was a Christian writer.” In her daily life and in her writing, “wit and wisdom joined hands with a living faith.”

Those who enjoy the clever phrasing in Austen’s novels will find the same in her prayers. It’s fascinating to read these prayers, line by line, and learn what Austen, a clergyman’s daughter who lived quietly with her family, considered worth praying for. Her own shortcomings appear to be front and center in her mind as she composes her prayers. For example, she writes: “Teach us to understand the sinfulness of our own hearts, and bring to our knowledge every fault of temper and every evil habit in which we have indulged to the discomfort of our fellow creatures and the danger of our own souls.”

The sister of two sailor brothers also wrote: “Heartily do we pray for the safety of all that travel by land or sea . . .”

The author of “Pride and Prejudice wrote: “Save us from deceiving ourselves by pride or vanity. . . . Incline us, O God, to think humbly of ourselves, to be severe only in the examination of our own conduct.”

Austen also prays for God’s help in breaking sinful habits and overcoming temptations: “We remember with shame and contrition, many evil thoughts and neglected duties; and we have perhaps sinned against Thee and our fellow-creatures in many instances of which we have no remembrance [sic] . . . Pardon, O God, whatever Thou has seen amiss in us, and give us a stronger desire of resisting every evil inclination and weakening every habit of sin. Thou knowest the infirmity of our nature, and the temptations which surround us.”

Austen prayed for the poor and sick, for a grateful heart, and for protection for her beloved family. Reading these prayers, I picture in my mind’s eye Jane and her family seated together in their home each evening, perhaps before a fire in winter, praying these lovely prayers together.

Writing out our prayers, sharing them with our families, and saving them (if only to recognize, in the months and years to come, how many of our prayers are answered) seems to me to be a wonderful way of worshipping God. And when next my family is gathered together, I plan to try it.


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