Kevin Mayhew, Stowmarket, 2015
How do you read the title of Rupert Bristow’s new collection? As “Nine Hundred and Ninety-Nine Prayers“? Or as “Nine Nine Nine Prayers“? Both are correct so far as grammar is concerned – and both are true so far as content is concerned. If you favour the former reading you will not be disappointed. Rupert’s volume delivers nine hundred and ninety-nine prayers in its four hundred pages. But if you favour the latter – with its unmistakable echoes of emergency and crisis – then, again, you will not be disappointed. Not only does Rupert begin with no fewer than 64 Arrow Prayers, “Short prayers for personal use in emergencies and in challenging or difficult situations” as he puts it. His book will also come to the rescue of anyone who receives that call half an hour before the Sunday service. That call. “Mrs X is on the rota to do the intercessions. She’s poorly. Would you mind…..?”
Rupert needs no introduction in our Diocese, of course. A Reader, licensed to the Trinity Benefice in Folkestone, he served as Diocesan Director of Education between 1995 and 2008. 999 Prayers is the ninth book of prayers he has produced for Kevin Mayhew since his retirement, and it contains many prayers from those earlier publications. Tucked into the back cover is a CD-Rom, making it even easier to copy and paste the content into Orders of Service or pew sheets.
What is most remarkable about the anthology is its sheer scope (Rupert modestly subtitles the book “prayers…for most occasions and situations”). I expect that there is an occasion or a situation for or about which Rupert has not offered a prayer, but I am at a loss to think what it might be. The first hundred pages comprise prayers for the liturgical seasons and the principal saints of the Calendar. In what follows, familiar-sounding sections (Creation, The World, The Church) contain sub-sections that are less familiar. Inclusion and Diversity, for example, has prayers for atheists and agnostics alongside its prayers for wealth and poverty; Schools and Education (a substantial section, which is perhaps unsurprising given Rupert’s professional background) has prayers for the amalgamation and federation of schools alongside its prayers for the new term or the new Head.
The tone throughout is varied. These may be the prayers of one voice, but they are prayers of a diverse timbre. Sometimes what emerges has the formality of a Collect:
you have provided for us in abundance,
so let us share with generosity and give thanks and praise
with joy...” (Harvest, p. 65).
Sometimes what emerges has a more conversational tone (and is not afraid of controversy):
it sometimes seems that there is too much religion in the world…
Help us to be
a bit more faithful in our religion,
a bit less religious in our faith…” (Religion, p. 185).
The style is always contemporary and invariably accessible. If the prose occasionally lacks the highly-polished elegance of some of our more ancient and venerable liturgical-devotional sources then that is to be expected and welcomed. These are the prayers of a Christian who is not ashamed to write “I realise I must work at my faith and put in the hard yards, alongside the flashes of insight” (Faith and Doubt, p. 244).
Hard yards – and flashes of insight. Rupert offers us both in this comprehensive volume, and is a reliable and valuable companion in the adventure of prayer.