Thinking with the Heart – Br. Jim Woodrum

Br. Jim Woodrum

Romans 8:26-27

God be in my head and in my understanding;
God be in my eyes and in my looking:
God be in my mouth and in my speaking;
God be in my heart and in my thinking;
God be at my end and at my departing.

The prayer in which I opened with is one that comes from the Sarum Primer. The word Sarum derives from Sarisburgianum, which is the Latin word for the English city of Salisbury.[i] A Primer is a condensed version of the liturgies of hours, prepared for lay persons. This prayer was one that might be prayed by the common people in and around Salisbury Cathedral in the 13th and 14th centuries. In his edition of compiled prayers from the Sarum Rites, Paul Stratman explains that a characteristic of Sarum prayers is that “they have a certain precision to the choice of words. This precision and clarity are what makes the Sarum prayers meaningful and beautiful.”[ii]

We can all appreciate the beautiful poetry of this prayer—five petitions beginning with the head and ending at our departing—a metaphor for bodily death. You may know that we Brothers will sometimes sing hymn number 694—a musical setting of this prayer—at Compline. Its theme has an overall “contemplative” feel—an invitation for God to permeate the whole of our being, including passing from the temporal into the eternal. I am struck by the word choices: head/understanding, eyes/looking, mouth/speaking, end/departing. These all directly correlate to one another. However, the fourth petition seems to be an anomaly: God be in my heart and in my thinking. Read More