The puzzle of prayer and Robert Louis Stevenson

Robert Louis Stevenson – the author of Treasure Island and Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde – suffered throughout his life from a weak chest and died young, at the age of 44. In 1894.

Stevenson eschews religion

Stevenson is said to have eschewed religion from his youth but he continued to pray daily throughout his life. And, about ten years after his death, his wife published a small volume of prayers that he wrote and which I find both powerful and moving. Whatever he believed, as he wrote these words and as he read them at household prayer meetings, I don’t know. But it’s hard to think that Stevenson did not have a deep and genuine spirituality, if not a conventional one.

The puzzle

In fact it’s a puzzle that anyone could write and practise such prayers without a true faith within.

Introduction to Stevenson’s Prayers

In the book there is a beautiful Introduction written by Mrs Stevenson which gives an insight into how Stevenson and his family, who lived in Samoa at the time, kept the faithful life of their community by closing each day by gather for prayer and worship.

She says,

In every Samoan household the day is closed with prayer and the singing of hymns. The omission of this sacred duty would indicate, not only a lack of religious training in the house chief, but a shameless disregard of all that is reputable in Samoan social life. No doubt, to many, the evening service is no more than a duty fulfilled. The child who says his prayer at his mother’s knee can have no real conception of the meaning of the words he lisps so readily, yet he goes to his little bed with a sense of heavenly protection that he would miss were the prayer forgotten... With my husband, prayer, the direct appeal, was a necessity. When he was happy he felt impelled to offer thanks for that undeserved joy; when in sorrow, or pain, to call for strength to bear what must be borne…
After all work and meals were finished, the ‘pu,’ or war conch, was sounded from the back veranda and the front, so that it might be heard by all. I don’t think it ever occurred to us that there was any incongruity in the use of the war conch for the peaceful invitation to prayer…
The service began by my son reading a chapter from the Samoan Bible, Tusitala [this is Stevenson - his Samoan name was Tusitala, which means ‘Teller of tales’] following with a prayer in English, sometimes impromptu, but more often from the notes in this little book, interpolating or changing with the circumstance of the day. Then came the singing of one or more hymns in the native tongue, and the recitation in concert of the Lord’s Prayer, also in Samoan…

Stevenson’s Prayer ‘For success’

Here is one of Stevenson’s prayers from that book called ‘For success.’ It’s a prayer he would have said many times at one of those prayer meetings that he held at the end of every day in Samoa:

Lord, behold our family here assembled.
We thank Thee for this place in which we dwell;
for the love that unites us;
for the peace accorded us this day;
for the hope with which we expect the morrow;
for the health, the work, the food, and the bright skies, that make our lives delightful;
for our friends in all parts of the earth,
and our friendly helpers in this foreign isle.
Let peace abound in our small company.
Purge out of every heart the lurking grudge.
Give us grace and strength to forbear and to persevere. Offenders, give us the grace to accept and to forgive offenders.
Forgetful ourselves, help us to bear cheerfully the forgetfulness of others.
Give us courage and gaiety and the quiet mind.
Spare to us our friends, soften to us our enemies.
Bless us, if it may be, in all our innocent endeavours.
If it may not, give us the strength to encounter that which is to come, that we be brave in peril, constant in tribulation, temperate in wrath, and in all changes of fortune, and, down to the gates of death, loyal and loving one to another.
As the clay to the potter,
as the windmill to the wind,
as children of their sire,
we beseech of Thee this help and mercy
for Christ’s sake. Amen

It’s a prayer full of thankfulness, full of humility and full of hope.

An inspiration for us

What a difference it would make if we all concluded our days, as Stevenson did, with a prayer like this.