Day By Day
Day by day, dear Lord, of you three things I pray:
Christian tradition traces the heart of the prayer to the
thirteenth-century bishop and saint known as Richard of
Chichester.' Its earliest source is the story of Richard's life by his companion and confessor, Ralph Booking. Richard is said to have prayed as he lay dying,
We may well believe that Richard's friends and companions remembered and then continued to use his threefold petitions to see, to love, and to follow the Lord in their own prayers.The phrase "day by day" may have been added later; perhaps whoever did so believed they heard the thought in the melody of the prayer. Or possibly, in one way or another, "day by day, dear Lord, three things I pray" also goes back to a time in Richard's life. Whatever its precise origins, the words of this prayer have been on the lips of many Christians in subsequent generations as they prayed in longing, love, and service.
We can imagine Bishop Richard whispering the prayer in his last days, but we may also suppose that he would have offered these or similar petitions throughout the life in which he grew to sainthood. Richard was remembered for his humility, his perseverance in times of hardship, and the strength and generosity of his faith. He also inspired many because of his care for the poor, widows, and orphans, and those who were sick. After his death in 1253, miracles of healing were said to have taken place through his intercession and a shrine grew up at his cathedral in Chichester, a small city south of London and a few miles from the English Channel. His had been a life of close friendships and high position, but also of opposition, exile, and poverty. Certainly there must have been many days of challenge and of life's ills and vagaries. The intonations of a brave and searching man on his knees can be heard throughout this prayer.
Richard's earliest biographer, the Dominican friar who had been his companion and confessor, knew this man of prayer well.There were occasions, Friar Ralph Rocking tells us, when early visitors to his chapel would find the bishop already there, having spent the night in prayer. On other days he would rise "before the birds were awake" and, while his chaplains still slept, be at his prayers before the day's work was begun.
Richard was also known as a man of discipline and order, a man of laws who could be fierce in his sense of justice and fairness toward others.Through much of his life he was esteemed as a careful administrator and a strict disciplinarian. As bishop he drew up statutes by which he expected clergy and laity to live.While strong in his support and defense of his clergy, those who were lazy or living immorally earned his rebuke. He was a reformer. He expected that the parish clergy would be well instructed and about their business as teachers and pastors. They were to dress cleanly. Vestments and the fabric of churches should be in good condition. Church buildings should be kept in repair and uncluttered. The prayers and offices were to be said "roundly"; that is, audibly and distinctly, without hurried or garbled words. Given the problems and challenges in the church and society, such discipline and moral leadership were no doubt needed. Richard wanted right living, diligence, honesty, and prayerfulness for the sake of all the people in the care of the diocese.
And yet his biographer maintained that Richard was remembered first and foremost as "jolly, warm-hearted, courteous, and of a cheerful countenance." His very name, Friar Ralph inventively suggests, was made up from the parts of three words, RIdens, CARus, and DUlciS: "laughing, beloved, and gracious." This combination in one person of a reformer and organized defender of laws with one who is yet often jolly, courteous, and gracious is unusual at the very least. The respect and affection in which this man of grace and spirit was held evidently was the fruit of his own example—the discipline began with him. A bishop, he believed, should be of irreproachable life, sober, restrained, and hospitable. He was "addicted," it is said, to works of mercy. When visiting a parish, Richard would inquire about those who were sick or poor and go to them with money and words of comfort. When they died, he would, whenever he was able, help bury them with his own hands. He evidently had the capacity, as Paul put it, to "rejoice with those who rejoice" and to "weep with those who weep" (Romans 12:15).
Temperate at table, the bishop preferred meals of bread dipped in beer or wine even in times of festival. He had practiced forms of asceticism at various times in his life, and his dress, too, was modest, usually a tunic covered with a linen cape. In winter he added a wool mantle that, in time, became rather threadbare. He lived simply so that he would not be set too far apart from those of low estate in his pastoral care. In an age when some bishops lived, as the saying goes, "high off the hog" and were often absent from their dioceses, following the king about and tending to matters of state, Richard hardly ever left his diocese. Because he had experienced exile and homelessness at one time in his life, and knew what it was like to be poor and outcast, he loved to give things away—which was seldom to the liking of his stewards and bailiffs, who were more concerned about restoring the fortunes of the diocese.
People who are regarded as saints in their lifetime can be thought to be somewhat otherworldly and probably not much good at the practical details of life.Yet Richard was skilled, energetic, and attentive to the arts of administration. This jolly man, who often went about with a cheerful smile on his face, had a will that seemed conformed to the service of others. People sensed in him an inner consecration of life.
How did he become this way? We can picture him often offering up the heartfelt petitions of his "dear Lord, three things I pray." We can hear him repeating his prayer as a young student and then teacher at Oxford; as Chancellor of the University and later for the Archbishop of Canterbury; after that in exile, trying to find his way to love and follow his Lord; as Bishop of Chichester; and then finally, as he lay dying. One sees him kneeling in chapel and churches, in his study, walking about his diocese, wanting to show God's love for others, keeping faithfully to his ministry of administration, visiting the poor. Not only did this prayer inform and shape his life, it grew from his life as well—from his times of hardships and uncertainty, out of his hopes and deepest aspirations. These times of earnest prayer would have formed the words of his mind and heart: "to see you more clearly, love you more dearly, follow you more nearly, dear Lord." In these ways the prayer becomes the story of his life. The prayer offers us the lineaments of his biography—the life story of a man determined yet kind, questing and firm in his faith to know, love, and follow his Lord.
Informed by Prayer
Desmond Tutu of South Africa is another bishop of great compassion and a strong sense of justice. Many of us would call him a saint, whose capacity for courage and graciousness, for determination and joy easily reminds us of Richard of Chichester. Desmond tells me that he has used Richard's prayer to see, love, and follow "for donkey's years" (as he puts it in his inimitable fashion). He believes his life, too, has been informed by the prayer, for Desmond Tutu also has experienced times of harsh opposition and persecution as well as high office and heavy administrative responsibilities. He was fierce in his struggles against the evils of apartheid and in his calls for justice and regard for the dignity of each human being.Yet all who have known him also picture his often smiling face and can hear his laughter.
That mirthfulness flows from his trust in the love of God in the very midst of some of the world's greatest suffering and wrongs. It may well have been Desmond's greatest strength and weapon against apartheid, for, he would frequently let people know, in God's eyes apartheid and all forms of discrimination were silly. "God," I can hear him insisting even now, "loves each and every one of you."
It takes a strong and deep faith to be able to make fun of human folly and wickedness, to be able to smile and laugh, when so many things in life are painful and unjust. It is the faith also of Julian of Norwich in the century following Richard who, in the middle of plague, illness, and many troubles, held that yet "all will be well, all will be well, all manner thing will be well." Such a response calls for much prayer, compassion, and a readiness to reach out with love and forgiveness for others—even and perhaps especially for one's enemies, who are also loved by God. It takes a heart that beats to the rhythm of a threefold prayer asking to see, to love, and to follow our Lord.
In reflecting on this prayer and the life it shaped, it is important to remember that Richard's life and times were in many ways radically different from our own. Science, technology, medicine, and the profusion of information about other times and places have given us greater knowledge and understanding but also distance us from the ways and beliefs of thirteenth-century England. We live in different cultures. Our lives and experiences are not the same. We will need to respect these differences as we reflect on Richard's life, ministries, and prayer in these meditations.
COPYRIGHT © 1988-2009 BY FREDERICK HOUK BORSCH All rights reserved.
Grateful acknowledgment is made to Morehouse Publishing an imprint of Church Publishing Incorporated for permission to reprint previously published material by the author.