The other day, on a Christian forum where the conversation had gotten around to prayer, one individual opined, "God only deserves spontaneous prayers."
That got up my small-c catholic hackles. I almost responded that, considering my own often inchoate blathering or self-serving "gimme" prayers, and the "Jeezus weejus" prayers I've had to sit through in various groups, our spontaneous prayer is less something that God "deserves" and more something that God is forced to endure.
But -- of course there's a time and place for spontaneous prayer, in our private moments and in corporate settings. I do the latter quite frequently as a commissioned lay minister called upon to lead prayer at my church and elsewhere.
Fixed prayers -- crafted, written prayers, of which the Psalms are just one example -- are also a valuable tool in our spiritual practice. Fixed prayers give us words when we have none. They often remind us to think outward -- outward to the glory of God, outward to the needs of our neighbors -- when our inclination is to pray only for our own needs and those of our immediate circle of family and friends. Fixed prayers can connect us across centuries and cultures with the Communion of Saints; imagine these prayers "rising like incense" from age to age, society to society. And they're often beautiful; the original Book of Common Prayer, Anglican churchman Thomas Cranmer's gift to the Church, is considered by many to be one of the greatest works of English literature as well as of Christian devotion.
The Phos hilaron -- also known as "The Lamp-Lighting Hymn" or "O Gladsome Light" -- is a hymn that dates back to the late 3rd or early 4th century. It's considered the oldest extant Christian hymn outside Scripture that still enjoys widespread usage. In both Eastern and Western churches the Phos hilaron is used as an early evening prayer. Does God deserve a prayer like this, as we bring our attention Godward at the end of a busy day? You can decide that for yourself:
O gracious light,
pure brightness of the everliving Father in heaven,
O Jesus Christ, holy and blessed!
Now as we come to the setting of the sun,
and our eyes behold the vesper light,
we sing your praises, O God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
You are worthy at all times to be praised by happy voices,
O Son of God, O Giver of Life,
and to be glorified through all the worlds.
You can also hear a sung version of the Phos hilaron www.missionstclare.com/english/July/even..."> here .