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I’ve been meeting with a group of friends who gather (virtually, these days) to support one another in our creative endeavors. Lately, we’ve been looking at poetry. I must confess that I was not particularly excited about this venture, but I was outvoted. I have since adjusted my attitude, but that’s another story. I wanted to share with you one of the exercises we did, because I found it to be a helpful way to pray these days when I find prayer difficult: writing a cento.
‘Cento’ comes for the Latin word for ‘patchwork.’ A cento is a poem made up completely from the lines of other poems—a collage of sorts. To write one, you collect a number of poems, and highlight the line (or lines) that draw your attention in each poem. You then copy those lines onto a piece of paper, and cut them into separate strips. Rearrange them at will, until you’ve created a new poem that’s your response. As a poetry exercise, it encourages us to linger with images or phrases that resonate for us and let our imaginations make connections between them. It also gets us past the hurdle of ‘finding the right words.’ These same advantages make it a helpful prayer practice.
As a prayer exercise, you might use the prayers and the readings from the Book of Common Prayer and the Daily Office (here’s a handy link), from any devotional you enjoy (here’s an example), from this week’s lectionary readings (link), from your favorite scripture (the Psalms offer lots here). You might try pulling a line or two each day, and gather them all at the end of the week. You might include words and phrases from reports of current events, as well. Mark your phrases or images, pull them out, and rearrange as you feel led. See what prayer emerges. Reflect on the associations you make, and on where the process leads you.
Here’s an example (lines taken from our worship bulletin for Morning Prayer on Sunday, June 26):
the Lord is good, his mercy is everlasting; and his faithfulness endures from age to age.
I am persuaded that your love is established for ever,
Thanks be to God.
Lord open our lips.
The people may add their own petitions:
war, famine, pestilence,
danger, sorrow, or any kind of trouble!
Make haste to heal these hearts of pain.
Thy will be done.
Create in us clean hearts, O God.
Give us such an awareness of your mercies
‘til all the world shall learn thy love
by what we have done, and by what we have left undone.
For all people,
chosen by the lord and precious,
our varied gifts united by Christ–
None of these will lose their reward.
Thanks be to God!
Give it a try! You might be surprised at the result.
Over the next few weeks, we’ll be personalizing the prayers of the people during worship to include our particular thanksgivings and petitions. If you’re willing to add to those by sharing your cento, or other reflection, please contact Cheryl.
Director of Christian Formation