Sunday, May 2, 2010

Almost A Poem

Reinhold Niebuhr wrote the Serenity Prayer though he may have borrowed unconsciously on forms of prayer that were around in Christian circles. There is a whole sequence of dates listed in the Wikipedia article on this matter and it is useful reading for anyone interested, as most AA members might be. As a matter of corroboration, I have read in another source I found in Portland’s AA central office bookstore a similar version of the same history. The Serenity Prayer is indeed just the few lines normally attributed to it:
God, grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.

There is a longer version but it was published much later and was written in 1953 by a man named William Spence.

Bill Wilson, co-founder of AA, apparently got hold of the prayer and introduced it to AA in 1941. Niebuhr may have put it into a sermon in 1934, the prayer beginning to circulate as early as that. Obviously it was circulating prior to 1941.

The basic idea and similar form has been around for centuries. These other forms are different enough that the catchiness of the Serenity Prayer itself could have been copyrighted had Niebuhr seen any need to do so. I wonder what it would be like to have something of mine turn out like this. What if something of mine became so widely known, with many millions of people saying it daily? How would my life change? Would my life change? I think questions like these are worth asking but really stupid to try to answer.

My dad had very little patience for hypothetical questions because he fancied himself a real practical man. He would correct me in that manner, telling me to quit those questions. I think of myself as full of fantasy and fiction. I know I am not so practical. I get to ponder hypothetical questions all I like.

Here is one of my versions, written as dated last year.

Almost A Poem

Without acceptance
there's no place for me to stand.
Without truest grit
there is no way I'll go there.
Without deep wisdom
I cannot find you at all.

This too is almost
a poem.

May 12, 2009 12:34 PM


  1. well, it is a very good poem! I will stick it on my fridge beside the serenity prayer, and who knows who will read it there....
    you never know and someday you might be famous, which of course in your own way you already are.
    Some people here way up north, in the middle of no where, know your name.

  2. You are kind, Jozien.

    I know I am known. I am not famous. If I disappeared tomorrow it would be with hardly a ripple.

    I know you care. I am grateful.

  3. I love this little almost poem, the profundity of it, which clashes with it's humble if God and man.

    "Cream and sugar in my coffee
    Right away when I awake
    I face the day and pray to God I won't make the same mistakes
    Oh the rest is out of my hands

    I will learn to let go what I cannot change
    I will learn to forgive what I cannot change
    I will learn to love what I cannot change
    But I will change, I will change
    Whatever I, whenever I can."
    (Leann RImes - What I Cannot Change)

    One of my favorite songs.

  4. Just wanted to tell you that it was a pleasure reading your post, and that I found the last version of your poem really good, wise, interesting and stylish, Because it is so good I like the ending in this context, the ending that suggest is just an attempt or a very small acomplishment, while is obvious that it is the opposite as well.
    Take care C

  5. WW, thanks for sharing Leann Rimes with me.

    Mariana, I believe the Serenity Prayer survives on its depth and how that depth appears in such a simple form. AA has millions of people going to meetings daily now. At the beginning or end of every meeting, perhaps in other places too, the Serenity Prayer is spoken in the group with most joining in. As such it is among the best known and most commonly used prayers on the planet.

    In many, perhaps most AA meetings the participants will say as well the Lord's Prayer. Some refrain from joining the circle or will stand in the circle without saying it so it is not universally used. I say all but the last part of the prayer as it is used here in the Pacific Northwest. I refrain from the last part as a Protestant addition, and too overtly and exclusively Christian.

    I don't know what happens in the meeting places where AA is established in non Christian countries. Many people assert that both the Serenity Prayer and the Lord's Prayer are so generic that they survive well outside of Christian circles. I was born and raised in Christian lands and so I am not a good judge of that. I consider myself one who has turned away from the Christian path in favor of a more personal approach to spiritual matters. Since I was once a confirmed member of the United Church of Christ, I am technically apostate.

    Whatever. The simplicity of the Serenity Prayer is not always easy to apply.

  6. I've got another favorite Christopher poem. My favorite lines:
    "Without truest grit
    there is no way I'll go there."
    I don't know how widespread it will become, but I will keep those words in my heart.

    Just an aside...your Dad sounds like mine. Mr. Realism.

  7. Thank you Julie, nice to have your comment. My dad was fussy in a rather large bear like way. He would grump around and seem quite intimidating and stern but he behaved with civility to all. He loved to undertake do it yourself projects and he succeeded generally, though they would clearly look like he did them instead of professionals.

    We lived in a small four bedroom tract home on a court in Santa Clara, Ca. He built an addition along one side of the front of the house, which gave us room for the piano, a TV area, a small dining area and made the living rooom much bigger. The odd part, in that addition we had a concrete floor, ground down to expose the specially designed aggregate.

  8. This poem brought tears to my eyes... it's so hard to find that place of acceptance... that watering of acceptance that is needed to mature and grow a garden of near-dead, wilted plants...

  9. I'll start here, am I completely deluded, but I think back on a conversation I had an hour or so ago when I was talking about belief and knowledge with Robert and he said that they were different and then the conversation went on but my mind was still far back and I stopped, backed up, and wondered aloud if in fact they were different? Or perhaps, we only choose to think they are different. Perhaps it's hope that's the motivator. I'm thinking of your dad and his practical nature. Perhaps he wasn't on the solid foundation he believed he was on.

    OK, maybe I'm way off base. I'll back up again.

    Often when I read your poems I am faced with things stripped down. I find it more difficult to see things stripped down. Isn't that funny? But I see your humor there, perhaps a salvation of sorts with someone like your dad (?) in that last line.


  10. Erin, belief and knowledge overlap with complex boundaries that swirl and eddy all across the universe. If you huddle within the overlap then they are essentially the same thing. This puzzlement leads to people claiming that you believe in stop signs in the same way you know of stop signs. There are other areas however where only belief can assert a reality. Such is the belief in angels, perhaps, though I admit that some people claim to know angels. There are still other areas for example you say it is somewhat ridiculous to say you believe water is H2O when you actually can know it and prove it by repeatable experiment.

    The categories overlap but not completely by any stretch.

    My dad was in his way a bit tragic. You are right that his foundation wasn't solid but I am not sure how. He did well enough but not the way he tried to choose and I believe his last years were deeply disappointing as he failed in his life work.

    Jesus I am grateful that has not happened to me. I don't know this about my dad. We never had that discussion and would never have it were he still alive. Here is one of the real distinctions between knowledge and belief. I would on the basis of my belief take the bet that my dad died an unhappy man in certain ways.

  11. It would leave a ripple, oh don't you know, I might be swallowed up by big waves, surfacing eventually, but more alone in this great ocean.


The chicken crossed the road. That's poultry in motion.

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