At the Baccalaureate Service on Sunday, we’ll conclude the service with this prayer:
O God, you have called your servants to ventures of which we cannot see the ending, by paths as yet untrodden, through perils unknown. Give us faith to go out with good courage, not knowing where we go, but only that your hand is leading us and your love supporting us; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen
This prayer has become something of a tradition for the end of the school year at Valpo. In Lutheran worship books of our time, this prayer is presented as one of the closing prayer options for the service of Evening Prayer. It’s a prayer for endings, the last prayer to be prayed at a service that marks the end of the day. We’re all having our bouts with endings and the grieving that endings often bring. Pr. Kate’s reflection from last week rightly called us to attend to our own grieving in these days and to give space and permission to others in their grief and frustration. But this prayer isn’t just about ending. It’s actually more about beginning.
I’ve traced this prayer back in time and the oldest publication I’ve discovered so far is a collection called Daily Prayer first published in London in 1941, though I’m still chasing leads. The compilers’ intention at that time was to provide prayers, arranged by subject for use by teachers in schools and others who might need to lead prayer for a group. In the book, this prayer is in a grouping of prayers for Mondays and is under the heading “The Call of Abraham.” It’s a prayer for beginnings and new adventures. It’s a prayer for an unknowable future even as it looks back and reflects on the past.
“O God, you have called your servants to ventures of which we cannot see the ending…” The prayer begins in the middle, between our past and our future because it is a prayer that we are praying today.
“O God, you have called…” The calling of God has already been happening. The “ventures” have already begun. When I listen to students reflecting on their time at Valpo, especially those looking back from the perspective of their senior year, there is frequently some level of amazement in their voices. They knew that they were coming to school. They knew that their time was going to change them. In many cases, they had no idea of the depth and breadth of those changes, no way of knowing the blessed specifics of the relationships with others that they would forge, no sense of the transformation that deepening intellect and growing confidence would bring, no anticipation of the spiritual growth that would come through both joys and sorrows. It’s a joy to listen and a joy to witness.
Students aren’t the only ones undergoing the unpredictable rolling out of the past into the future. None of us who work at Valpo could have imagined the wildly unpredictable nature of the last four years when we were welcoming the class of 2021 to campus for the first time. The program cuts and losses of colleagues are not what we hoped for. These have been “paths untrodden, through perils unknown.”
Yet, here we are, at the end of another academic year, looking back and looking forward, certain of nothing except that I am currently writing and you are currently reading. Sunday, God willing, we will be praying for trust in the leading hand and supporting love of God through what will come. It’s a good prayer for commencement in any year. This year, it’s nearly perfect.
May 12, 2021
Rev. James A. Wetzstein serves as University Pastor at Valparaiso University and takes turns writing weekly devotions.