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The Prayer to the Holy Spirit

emmaus-logoSince 1985 I have been involved in the Walk to Emmaus movement of the United Methodist Church.  When the Chrysalis weekends (for teens) began in Michigan, I quickly became part of that. More recently, I have been a part of the Keryx prison ministry movement which is a similar weekend but held for the inmates of prisons here in Michigan. (In other parts of the world, the comparable prison ministry is called Kairos.)

All of these are an outgrowth of the larger Cursillo movement that began in the Roman Catholic Church, in Spain in 1949. As Protestants became interested in the Cursillo, many Protestant versions began to arise. The Walk to Emmaus is simply the United Methodist version. Chrysalis is the United Methodist version for teenagers. But, there are many other Protestant versions of Cursillo as well, including: Pilgrimage (Presbyterian), Via de Christo (Lutheran), Episcopal Cursillo, Tres Dias, DeColores in Christo, etc.

It is characteristic of most of these Cursillo-type weekends that at the beginning of the several talks (traditionally called “rollos”) given on the weekend some version of the following prayer is recited by the participants:

Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit, and they shall be created and You shall renew the face of the earth. O God, who by the light of the Holy Spirit, did instruct the hearts of the faithful, grant that by the same Holy Spirit we may be truly wise and ever enjoy His consolations. Through Christ Our Lord. Amen.

This is an ancient prayer. It is so ancient that no one knows who wrote it. The last part of the prayer dates back at least as far as the ninth century, since a version of it is found in the Gregorian Sacramentary.

So, participants on these weekends learn this prayer but they don’t always understand it. Some actually learn to dislike it, since it is difficult to understand. And, since they are required to recite it, it becomes to them simply a prayer they pray by rote.

I happen to think its a wonderful prayer. It just needs some explanation.

The prayer falls into three distinct parts.

1. An Invitation to the Holy Spirit:

“Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love.”

pentecostwindow-4360485489It is this phrase of the prayer, more than anything else, that gives it the common titles “The Prayer to the Holy Spirit” or “The Holy Spirit Prayer.” Usually, prayer is addressed to God the Father through (or in the name of) the Son, in (or inspired by) the Holy Spirit — and this prayer is too. But, it begins with an invitation for the the Spirit to inspire all of God’s faithful — and that would include the hearers of the talk. This phrase recognizes that it is the Holy Spirit that inspires Christians to pray. “Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints.” (Ephesians 6:18 NRSV). Most of all, it is the fire of love that the Holy Spirit inspires: “…God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” (Romans 5:5 NRSV).

2. A Bible Verse (Psalm 104:30):

“Send forth your Spirit, and they shall be created and You shall renew the face of the earth.”

Hebrew_bible_4Many people who recite this prayer do not realize that this is a Bible verse. Psalm 104 is a psalm of praise to God for God’s creation of all the earth and its creatures. “O LORD, how manifold are your works! In wisdom you have made them all; the earth is full of your creatures.” (Psalms 104:24 NRSV). God not only creates all living things, but he sustains them. “These all look to you to give them their food in due season; when you give to them, they gather it up; when you open your hand, they are filled with good things. When you hide your face, they are dismayed; when you take away their breath, they die and return to their dust.” (Psalms 104:27-29 NRSV). Then we read the phrase: “When you send forth your spirit, they are created; and you renew the face of the earth.” God is active in creating and sustaining — and in re-creating!

The Spirit who inspires our prayers is also the Spirit of all life. So, the invitation for the Spirit’s inspiration is enhanced by a Biblical reminder of who the Spirit is — and what the Spirit does. By the Spirit, God creates — and re-creates.

3. A Prayer:

O God, who by the light of the Holy Spirit, did instruct the hearts of the faithful, grant that by the same Holy Spirit we may be truly wise and ever enjoy His consolations. Through Christ Our Lord. Amen.

blessing-prayerThis is the prayer itself. The first two parts can be seen as a preparation for this prayer. Notice (as I said above) that this is a prayer to God through Christ inspired by the Holy Spirit. As God instructed the hearts of the faithful in times past, so may God also instruct us today. The purpose of such inspiration is two-fold: that we might be “truly wise” — with the wisdom of God — and that we might “ever enjoy God’s consolations” — all the gifts of God’s grace.

It is this part of the prayer that goes back to at least the ninth century — and probably earlier. Thus, when we join in this prayer we are joining with the early church — and with the faithful of Israel as the sang their psalms — in praying for the continued inspiration and re-creation of the Holy Spirit.

All in all, it’s quite an inspiring and powerful prayer — if we understand it.

For some reason (no doubt with the intention of making the prayer more personal), in the Walk to Emmaus, the prayer has been changed to read this way:

Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in us the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit and we shall be created. And you shall renew the face of the earth. O God, who by the light of the Holy Spirit did instruct the hearts of the faithful, grant that by the same Holy Spirit we may be truly wise and ever enjoy your consolations. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

While this does make it more personal, it also obscures the fact that the second sentence is actually a Bible verse. People may wonder why they are praying for God to “create” them when they have (evidently) already been created. But, remember: this is an affirmation of who the Spirit is and what the Spirit does. God creates us by the Spirit, because it is always the Spirit of God that gives life. God re-creates us in love through faith in Jesus Christ. So, while that part of the current Emmaus version of the prayer is a little strange, if you know it is a reference to Psalm 104:30 you still get the idea.

This prayer also lends itself to responsive reading:

Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love.

Send forth your Spirit, and they shall be created.
And You shall renew the face of the earth.

Let us pray.

O God, who by the light of the Holy Spirit, did instruct the hearts of the faithful, grant that by the same Holy Spirit we may be truly wise and ever enjoy His consolations. Through Christ Our Lord. Amen.

All in all, this is a wonderful prayer. It is a way of praying with the early church and with the faithful down through the ages for the inspiration and power of the Holy Spirit. It also joins us with the ancient praises of Israel.

And to round this off, I add a YouTube video of a rock n roll version of the first part of the prayer to the Holy Spirit. Unfortunately the maker of this video does not know who wrote or recorded this musical version. The words of the song are based on both Psalm 104:30 and Isaiah 11:2 (“The spirit of the LORD shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD.” NRSV.).

 

Comments (15) | Trackback

15 Responses to “The Prayer to the Holy Spirit”

  1. Jim Birch says:

    Thanks for your illumination, Pastor Craig. Wanted to mention that on the Keryx weekend you missed, one of the corrections officers assigned to the chapel on the weekend heard this prayer repeatedly in the conference room and asked me where we got it from. I told him that it is a common Catholic prayer that originated with Cursillo,. He told me that the priest in his parish had been using it a lot during worship and told him to invite his priest to be a part of the Keryx ministry if he was a Cursillista.

    I served on my first Kairos down here in Indiana a couple of weekends ago. I was surprised that they did not use this prayer before the talks, but one called the “Kairos Community Prayer.”

    • That’s not necessarily a bad idea. The Prayer to the Holy Spirit (it seems to me) requires explanation in order for it to be used meaningfully. And, for some reason, the explanation has never been part of the program. I like the prayer and would hate to see it go, but I can also see that it might be better to substitute a different prayer than try to revise it. (It’s nice to hear from you, Jim!)

      • Jim Birch says:

        I always figured that the slight differences in wording between the Cursillo and Emmaus versions (instructs vs did instruct, enjoy your consolations vs rejoice in your consolations) were variations in the translation from Spanish, but I think your explanation makes more sense.

  2. patty ferguson says:

    You should really look into the history of Walk to Emmaus. You have quite a bit of the history confused. It’s is of the Upper room and ecumenical not really the United Methodist church. And all though it’s origins are from Cursillo it is not part of that movement it is it’s own entity. Having just gone through a Chrysalis restart training this weekend it was made important that we should get the info right.

    • Patty,

      Here is the official version of the history of the Walk to Emmaus (from the web site):

      The Walk to Emmaus is an adaptation of the Roman Catholic Cursillo (pronounced cur-SEE-o) Movement, which originated in Spain in 1949. Cursillo de Cristianidad means “little course in Christianity.” The original Cursillo leaders designed the program to empower persons to transform their living and working environments into Christian environments. During the 1960s and 1970s, the Episcopalians and Lutherans, along with several nondenominational groups, such as Tres Dias, began to offer Cursillo. In 1978, The Upper Room of the General Board of Discipleship adapted the program for a primarily Protestant audience and began to offer it under the name The Upper Room Cursillo. In 1981, The Upper Room made further adaptations and changed the name of the program to The Upper Room Walk to Emmaus. In 1984, The Upper Room developed a youth expression of Emmaus called Chrysalis.

      The Walk to Emmaus is broadly “United Methodist” in that it reflects the Wesleyan understanding of Prevenient Grace, Justifying Grace and Sanctifying Grace. Other traditions do not use the phrase “prevenient grace” though they have comparable concepts. The Wesleyan emphasis on “sanctification” is also a little different from the way people in other traditions might understand it. So, it reflects a broadly Methodist approach to the faith. Yes, it is ecumenical in that Christians of all denominations are invited and encouraged to be a part of it. But, they may not amend the program. It is copyrighted by the Upper Room, which is an arm of the United Methodist Church.

      • Jim Birch says:

        In the Cursillo, the talk known as Prevenient Grace in Emmaus is called Habitual Grace, as in “God makes a habit of forgiving.”

      • Patty,

        I should also mention that the views of baptism and holy communion in the outline of the Means of Grace talk are consistent with the official United Methodist position on these sacraments. This is significantly different than (for example) the Baptist view.

  3. Doc Hall says:

    While The Walk to Emmaus is Wesleyan in some of its terminology and theology it is a totally ecumenical ministry of The Upper Room – itself founded as an ecumenical ministry. The Upper Room is connected to the United Methodist Church but receives no funding or financial support from the UMC. The Walk to Emmaus, and other Emmaus Ministreis, are not supported by any funding from the UMC, either.
    From the Upper Room website – Although Upper Room Ministries® is interdenominational in its mission and make-up, it is a ministry of The United Methodist Church. All ministries (publishing and program) of The Upper Room are consistent with doctrinal standards articulated in The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church (2012 edition).

    • Thanks. However, I’m not sure why it’s relevant to know that “The Upper Room… receives no funding or financial support from the UMC” when your second paragraph admits that while “Upper Room Ministries® is interdenominational in its mission and make-up, it is a ministry of The United Methodist Church”; and, that “All ministries (publishing and program) of The Upper Room are consistent with doctrinal standards articulated in The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church.”

      I see from following your link that there is now a version of The Walk to Emmaus for old codgers (like me), huh? What is the need for that?

      • Doc Hall says:

        I know lots of people think the money is what drives many programs such as these. That is not the case here.

        The relationship between the Upper Room and the UMC is an interesting one. Where the Upper Room is, in many ways, guided by the UMC, it also reaches above, around, and beyond.

        The program you mentioned is a new offering from the Upper Room. The original thought was it was something to offer to those who were not able to withstand the “rigors” of a full 3 day event. Having also been around Emmaus for many years myself I have noticed people would begin, what I call, ‘checking out’ about midway through the second day.However, it has been found that the offering of instruction and sharing on grief and end-life issues has become a very important part of the new program – areas which, as you know, the church does not do well where it concerns Older Adults.
        Thanks for the chance to respond.
        Peace!

  4. […] (Genesis 1:1,2 NASB). I alluded to this aspect of the Spirt’s role recently in discussing The Prayer to the Holy Spirit. The Spirit of God is spoken of in the Bible as being the Spirit of all life. “O LORD, how […]

  5. Larry Price says:

    Thanks Craig for your favorable comments. The prayer does not need defending, it needs to be released into the lives of the participants. I have never heard of anyone not enjoying the prayer. After a 72 hour weekend the Walk is designed to instill better leaders, and to have a better understanding of just what servanthood is meant to be. Like many things that man tries to improve on the more they work on it the further they get away from what it was originally set up to accomplish. We spend more time on inclusive words, non discriminate, and no gender words in order to make everyone feel good but sometimes these take away from what God wants us to be. May the Holy Spirit helps us draw into a deeper relationship with God and be doers of the Word and not hearers only. DeColores! Larry Price Walk to Emmaus #6 Table of Matthew from South Georgia Walk to Emmaus.

  6. Just awesome. My brother Randy has a lead on Emmaus here in Az. I did an Emmaus Walk in 2010

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