01 April 2009

Book, recommended: Starck's Prayer-Book, Motherhood Prayers for All Occasions

If I were of a different Christian persuasion, I'd say that I don't have the spiritual gift of prayer. I don't get into that way of thinking much any more. But I will say that during my personal prayers, I often have that grim and heavy feeling I get when I've tried to figure out how to cut a piece of fabric, and what's cut is cut and there's no going back, and I've probably ruined the whole project at the first step because I'm too dumb to have figured out how to do it right. I just keep cutting and hating myself and hoping against hope that maybe, somehow, I'm not screwing it up and it will all work out ok.

Lutherans have this nice habit of pointing out how easy God has made prayer and worship for us: we just use the words He's given us (I blame my theologically dubious past for my lingering hang-ups). Sometimes, though, you'd like to add something a little more personal to your Vater Unser and such. Girls, have I got the book for you.

I mentioned Starck's Prayer-Book in a recent post, and it got me to thinking about it again. Many moons ago, with Baby 1, I had a pregnancy panic. I'm sure you know what I'm talking about. I was in desperate need of words and too distressed to come up with any. I don't remember how I ended up with Starck in my hands at that particular moment, but it was a Godsend (I had my dad's old volume from the Concordia Heritage Series; now it's available through Emmanuel Press, linked below). The last section of the book, which is separate from the rest, is Starck's Motherhood Prayers for All Occasions. They are wonderful . I read through them again to give you a full review, and I am not letting this book find its way back to Dad's office again. I can't believe I've let it sit there for three pregnancies. (The whole book is worth your time, but I'm only going to talk about the Motherhood Prayers here.)

The book is set up as a series of exhortations, prayers, and hymns. It begins with a general devotion and goes on to cover different angles on parturition such as The Woman With Child Reflects on Her God-Pleasing State; Commends Herself and Her Child To God; Thanks God For Her Fruitfulness; Takes Comfort in the Thought That God Will Help Her; etc. Next is a long section of Meditations for Labor, including Scripture, prayers and "sighings" (!). Then there are meditations for confinement, including prayers for the child at its baptism, the woman's churching, the weaning of the child, etc. A few things particularly struck me as I was reading it again.

The first thing I liked was that the Motherhood Prayers are their own special section. They don't get lumped in with the infirm as if pregnancy were a disease, or one perfunctory feel-good mention at the end of the other day-to-day stuff. The book's format grants unique attention to mothers, who get a lot of pages devoted to their particular need for prayer. It's just what you'd expect from the Church. Thanks, Starck.

Starck wants pregnant ladies to be happy. The exhortations and prayers often mention the importance of being cheerful and not weighed down by fear and complaints, because of the danger to the child. One is tempted to blow this off as superstitious, but it actually fits rather well with contemporary quasi-superstitious beliefs in the power of such mystical substances as endorphins and dopamine. I don't know how any of that works; on the other hand, even a pop-science cynic like myself can admit I'd rather have my baby swimming around in happy oxytocin than cranky bile to whatever extent those things make a difference. Smile, Mama! There's a sweet little person in you! :) And you really do look cute.

Starck has many comforting words and prayers about fear which resonated with me. Even though I know that at this point in history there is virtually no serious danger to me, I have really struggled during my pregnancies with fear of labor-related pain and injury. These prayers are just what I needed. They prodded me for my self-centeredness during pregnancy. Childbirth is and has always been much more dangerous to the child than the mother, and here I am fretting that I'm going to get hurt, and it might be bad. Fear drives many women in our time to avoid pregnancy in the first place, which is nothing but sad. There is so much to be gained--let us not be kept from the blessings of God by horrors of our own self-preserving divination when we have His promise of help.

Despite our fear, Starck emphasizes that the Christian mother prays always for her unborn child and looks forward with joy to seeing it. How true. The words he employs for such prayers are beautiful and heartening.

Starck's prayers prove themselves worthy in that they are saturated with Scripture. I wish the references were listed in the margins, because I'm sure there is much that I'm missing. But even relying on the meager resources in my own memory banks, it is clear that Starck isn't just making up stuff that sounds good. These prayers are the Word of God, helpfully arranged for a particular need.

A prayer that struck me as being particularly relevant to our day of highly politicized childbirth was this one: To those who are attending me, dear Father, give wisdom and understanding that they may wisely arrange everything and do neither too little nor too much. AMEN to that!

The labor section is well-suited to the task. The prayers are short, and would fit neatly between contractions if you have the presence of mind for such things. I usually don't. A Kyrie or Agnus Dei is about the best I can do, but my labors are also crazy fast and intense. For a longer labor, these could be great. I also think they could be useful for someone like me as a prep course, if that makes sense. I don't have the energy to read or even to be read to during labor, but I would really benefit from having something solid for my mind to hold on to during those interminable moments. I'm going to try to get some of these in place internally for my next time around, DV, even if I won't be able to actually verbalize them. I got another dose of historical reality reading through this section, as the final prayer is followed by a note directing the attendant where to turn in the main part of the book if it appears that the mother will die. Shiver.

A few things may sound primitive to educated contemporaries, particularly a petition that the mother should see no "deformed persons," and prayers against falls and frights that all your pregnancy books assured you were just old wives' tales. The translation also relies heavily on the word "fruit" to refer to the baby. No hard feelings to Starck or the translator (Dau), but asking God to guard my fruit makes me imagine a bunch of my four-year-old's army guys, miraculously animated, forming a perimeter around the pineapples on my counter. So in using the book, you might want to skip a line or two or substitute a word occasionally. I also didn't know many of the hymns, but it's easy enough to match a tune to know to the meter of what's in front of you if you're the singin' type.

TRIGGERS: Miscarriage is not specifically addressed. The confinement prayer thanking God for a safe delivery is directed for use whether or not the child is alive. There is one final section, "Admonition and Comfort for the Barren." I hope you will forgive me that my heart was saddened and I did not read it, but it's there.

I wanted to include more quotations since there are so many good ones, but this is long already. You'll just have to get a copy and pray it yourself. Tell your oldest kid to tell Dad that it's what you want for Mother's Day. You can get it from Emmanuel Press for $25 (cheap!). I'll send you out with a verse from one of the hymns.
Be not disheartened, sister,
Though weary the task you try;
Strength will come with the toiling;
You will finish it by and by.
Then sweet in your ear at sunset,
When the day's long course is run,
Will sound the voice of the Master,
And His word of praise, "Well done!"


Joy said...

I have a Barnes and Noble gift card that I can use online, so I think I'll buy this. I generally feel guilty reading anything other than the Bible since I haven't yet read it through, but since you said the prayers were Scripture.... :)

I hear you re: Kyrie and Agnus Dei. There was a minute or so with this last one when I seriously thought I was dying, so all that came out of me (besides a bloody baby) was, "God, save me!"

And He did.

Reb. Mary said...

Yeah. Need one. Definitely. Thanks for reminding us of it again--I looked it up after you last mentioned it, but, of course, never got back to it twixt then and now.

Joy said...

When I ordered it online, B&N suggested I'd also enjoy Rick Warren's "PurposeDriven Life."