Monday, March 21, 2011

Rending and Bending Hearts….

I came across two snippets about the heart the other day...via a website that posts daily lectionary based devotionals called The Daily Office.  A new one every day...contents include prayers/  intercessions/ scripture/etc. There are headings like... Collect of the Day / Benediction/ Invitatory/ Jubilate/ Antiphon/ Old Testament Lesson/ New Testament Lesson/ Prayers (guided and scripted) Canticles.  It resounds with ritual and in stained glass windows, heavy oak pews, ornate communion vessels. It comes across as very "high church" Pretty much the polar opposite of my flying by the seat of my pants, haphazard style of "quiet time." The site is called the The Daily Office from the Mission of St. Clare. 

Probably because it is the season of Lent and Easter, the theme is repentance. The two snippets that caught my attention and stuck in my thoughts are about the heart.  One is from a short book in the Apocrypha called The Prayer of Manasseh.  The other from the book of Joel. 

I found a few articles about the Prayer of Manasseh...following is a brief, concise description of the prayer found in a post on The Daily Episcopalian.

This Manasseh was a king of Judah, reigning from (roughly) 687-642 BC. And, as far as 2 Kings 21 was concerned, he wins the Worst King of Judah EVER award. The shortlist is idolatry, sacrificing his own children, and widespread murder… The version that 2 Chronicles 33 tells has a twist, though; here he’s carried off to Babylon where he prays a great prayer of repentance, God forgives him, and he returns to try to reverse the evil he has done. 

Another resource I found says this....

Most scholars believe that the prayer was originally composed in Greek, but for such a short book—about 400 words in English—the problem of determining the original language is difficult. Because the Prayer of Manasseh survives both in Greek and in Syriac, Latin (two forms), Ethiopic, Armenian, and Old Slavonic translation, it was clearly popular in the first three Christian centuries, among both Jews and Christians. 

Check out more information HERE

Daniel J. Harrington writes: "What were the words of Manasseh's prayer? Inquiring minds wanted to know. According to 2 Chronicles 33:18-19 the words were preserved in 'the Annals of the Kings of Israel' and in 'the records of the seers.' But neither of these books has been preserved. The Prayer of Manasseh represents what an anonymous author imagined that Manasseh should have said or would have said in his prayer. It was most likely composed in Greek and reflects the language and style of the Septuagint. It is included in some Septuagint manuscripts in a special section called 'Odes.' The most important versions are in Latin and Syriac, and it is included in church manuals from the third and fourth centuries C.E. (Apostolic Constitutions and Didaskalia). The earliest evidence for the work's existence comes from the third century C.E., so it could have originated at any time between the composition of 2 Chronicles and then. It was probably written by a Greek-speaking Jew outside the land of Israel, though Christian authorship is not impossible." (Invitation to the Apocrypha, pp. 166-167)   

So the gist of this is that The Prayer of Manasseh is not the exact prayer Manasseh prayed...and it was written much later, long after Manasseh was gone.  But it is what he could have, should have, might have said.  And perhaps God laid the exact words on the heart of the anonymous author of The Prayer because it really is a great prayer.  A quote by Madeleine L'Engle I happened upon sums it up quite well....

"Truth is what is true, and it's not necessarily factual. Truth and fact are not the same thing. Truth does not contradict or deny facts, but it goes through and beyond facts. This is something that it is very difficult for some people to understand. Truth can be dangerous."

and in another place a variation of that same thought....

it's truth, not fact, and you have to take truth seriously even when it expands beyond the facts.

The beginning of the prayer finds "Manasseh" describing the majesty, splendor, power and glory of God.  In verse 7 he focuses on the mercy of God....

for You are the Lord Most High, compassionate, patient, and merciful

And then he declares his version of "God be merciful to me a sinner." like the tax collector in the temple.

For I have sinned more than the number of sand of the sea; my lawless deeds are multiplied, O Lord, multiplied, and I am not worthy to look and see the heights of heaven because of the multitude of my unrighteous deeds.

And let’s just say that, in spite of the hyperbole, Manasseh was not really overstating the case.  He HAD INDEED sinned.  Among his many crimes….he shot down all the reforms his father Hezekiah had put in place.  He brought back idol worship, rebuilt the altars of Baal and profaned the temple. And he sacrificed his sons in the Valley of Ben-Hinnom. Some add the murder of Isaiah to Manasseh’s rap sheet.  Method of execution?  Isaiah was sawed in half.

So…Manasseh was definitely not a nice guy. And he was well aware of this when he knelt to pray. 

In verse 11 he utters my favorite words of the prayer....

And now I bend the knee of my heart, begging for your clemency.

Another version words it thusly....

And now I bend the knee of my heart, beseeching thee for thy kindness.

To wrap this post up (but to be continued in another post) here is one more quote from the Daily Episcopalian….

Then, in a beautiful mixed metaphor, the poet “bends the knee of my heart,” not in excuses or self-justification, but in pure supplication. In these words there is absolute conviction of two things: first, the poet’s sinfulness; second, the character of God—that our God is the God who forgives.

And it is the sentiment about “not in excuses or self justification, but in pure supplication” that brings me to the verse in Joel…in my next post.

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