Make Us Mindful

Jane now enters into a time of recollection and confession in her prayer. While morning prayer lends itself to seeking God’s direction for the day, evening prayer often focuses on looking back over the day in personal reflection. As Jane considers her day, she asks God’s pardon (or forgiveness) for any “offences,” “evil Thoughts,” “neglected duties,” or sins.

Jane’s life, faith, and writing were undoubtedly influenced by the prayers in the Church of England’s Book of Common Prayer. Jane heard these prayers at home and at church, read them for herself, and learned many of them by heart. She not only understood the spiritual meaning of the prayers, she knew the heft and rhythm of their lines and phrases. The content and the cadences undoubtedly spoke to her spiritual nature and to her writer’s ear.

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Look Down with Favor

For the next 10 days, we will examine Jane’s second prayer:

“Almighty God! Look down with Mercy on thy Servants here assembled & accept the petitions now offered up unto thee.

Pardon Oh God! the offences of the past day. We are conscious of many frailties; we remember with shame & contrition, many evil Thoughts & neglected duties, & we have perhaps sinned against Thee & against our fellow-creatures in many instances of which we have now no remembrance. Pardon Oh God! whatever thou hast seen amiss in us, & give us a stronger desire of resisting every evil inclination & weakening every habit of sin. Thou knowest the infirmity of our Nature, & the temptations which surround us. Be thou merciful, Oh Heavenly Father! to Creatures so formed & situated.

We bless thee for every comfort of our past and present existence, for our health of Body & of Mind & for every other source of happiness which Thou hast bountifully bestowed on us & with which we close this day, imploring their continuance from Thy Fatherly goodness, with a more grateful sense of them, than they have hitherto excited. May the comforts of every day, be thankfully felt by us, may they prompt a willing obedience of thy Commandments & a benevolent spirit towards every fellow-creature.

Have Mercy Oh Gracious Father! upon all that are now suffering from whatsoever cause, that are in any circumstance of danger or distress. Give them patience under every affliction, strengthen, comfort & relieve them. To Thy Goodness we commend ourselves this night beseeching thy protection of us through its darkness & dangers. We are helpless & dependent; Graciously preserve us. For all whom we love & value, for every Friend & Connection, we equally pray; However divided & far asunder, we know that we are alike before Thee, & under thine Eye. May we be equally united in Thy Faith & Fear, in fervent devotion towards Thee, & in Thy merciful Protection this night. Pardon Oh Lord! the imperfections of these our Prayers, & accept them through the mediation of our Blessed Saviour, in whose Holy Words, we further address thee;
Our Father . . . —Jane Austen

In the opening line of her second prayer, Jane asks God to look down with mercy and favor as she and her family gather to pray. Her words and tone convey a strong belief in a loving, personal God who “sits above the circle of the earth” (Isaiah 40:22) and yet is close at hand. She asks God to “look down with Mercy” and “accept the petitions” they offer. Jane’s words paint a picture of a group of children gathering to talk to their father as he comes close to listen. Continue reading “Look Down with Favor”

A Genuine Faith

This line in Jane’s prayer is passionate and sobering. It’s a warning against spiritual drowsiness and a reminder to be alert and awake in our faith. Jane “implores” God to “quicken” her sense of the “Value of that Holy Religion in which” she was brought up, that she would not neglect her faith or be a Christian “only in name.”

A prime example of false Christianity in Jane’s novels is Mrs. Norris in Mansfield Park. Though she is a clergyman’s wife, she exhibits character traits that are far from the heart of Christ. She claims she’s “always ready enough to do for the good” of those she loves, but she only loves money and those who have it. She says, “I should hate myself if I were capable of neglecting [Fanny],” even though she mistreats and belittles Fanny continually. She also declares she “would rather deny [herself] the necessaries of life, than do an ungenerous thing,” when in reality she is selfish and cares only for her own comfort.

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