from all promptings to decry the person and work of others;
from scorn, sarcasm, petty spite, and whisperings behind the back;
from the dishonest honesty of frankness meant to hurt;
Deliver me, and keep me, O my Lord...'
This is an extract from one of the beautifully crafted prayers of Eric Milner-White (1884-1963), Dean of York from 1941 until his death. Recently I used this prayer at Evensong and a number of people told me how helpful they found it (copyright considerations preclude quoting it at greater length). Some of his other prayers, or Devotions as he called them, have also spoken to the hearts of those present and expressed to God what lies deep within. Personally I find them both helpful and poetic, and usually choose one to use during the intercessions at Evensong.
In his Apologia, Eric Milner-White explained that the Devotions were not 'written' but rather grew out of many years of a life of faith. Whilst they express deep devotion and reflection on Scripture, the being of God, and the nature of humanity, they are nonetheless accessible and straightforward; as in the extract above, discerning precisely the characteristics and attitudes which we are called to renounce, whilst elsewhere aspiring to lift our hearts, prayers and actions to what is noblest and most Christ-like.
Prayer is an expression of the desires of our hearts. In infancy, it's the desire for security and love: 'God bless Mummy and Daddy'. As we grow in faith, we learn to pray for the things which worry us: the needs of the world, the hungry, the refugee, the victims of war, natural disaster and accident. Perhaps we're fortunate to experience the prayer of the liturgy, and find as we mature that it resonates with and feeds our own growing desire for God. Perhaps we become familiar with the Collects and, over time, find that they become embedded within us so that we can call them to mind and pray them frequently. Or maybe we come from a less formal tradition in which prayer is largely spontaneous. Ideally we learn to listen to God in silent meditation too. What matters is that the desires of our hearts are increasingly shaped towards God and open to our neighbour; and Eric Milner-White's devotions help in that process of shaping.
His book of devotions is still available and I recommend it for use, not only during Lent but throughout the year. It's called 'My God, my glory', published by Triangle/SPCK, ISBN 0-281-04728-6. It's very inexpensive too. There are few better uses for that loose change in your purse or pocket.