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Fraser Trevor Fraser Trevor Author
Title: The Serenity Prayer has become so famous because of its association with Alcoholics Anonymous as a personal prayer, spoken in the first person singular.
Author: Fraser Trevor
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The Serenity Prayer has become so famous because of its association with Alcoholics Anonymous as a personal prayer, spoken in the first pers...

The Serenity Prayer has become so famous because of its association with Alcoholics Anonymous as a personal prayer, spoken in the first person singular. That's a wonderful way to use the prayer, a fine way, but I felt it was important to remember that it was written originally in the first person plural at the height of the Second World War. In the summer of 1943, when it was written, it was not at all sure that the Allies would win the war. It had been going on for years. It had gone on for two full years before the United States even joined in the war -- a cause that my father was deeply involved in and cared about. It wasn't clear how long it would take to win the war. I felt that a person such as the author of this prayer, an active clergyman and teacher and pastor and writer who had been working on issues of social justice and collective concerns about the community, could not but have these thoughts in mind when writing such a prayer. It would be inconceivable for a clergyman not to think of these things when composing such words in 1943. There was terrible pain and loss and grief that we all sustained in our private lives, but surely we as a community, as a city, as a village like the village my father wrote the prayer for, or as a country were suffering unimaginable grief and loss in 1943. Some of it was very hard to accept. There were conditions, not only the wartime conditions but conditions in our own country of social injustice and economic disparities, of difficult racial problems, all of which had concerned my father for many decades. It is inconceivable to me that he wouldn't have had these in mind as well, as he wrote a prayer like this. The question of when to decide what to do, trying to have the wisdom to decide whether to try to change something or to accept it, was something that had been occupying everybody throughout the 1930s and 1940s. When do we decide to get involved in this war, for example, was a subject that had taken the United States two full years to answer. So it seemed to me that it was germane.

This is very much the situation today. It's not similar; it's comparable. We have comparable difficulties -- not the same difficulties, but our difficulties today are to figure out this strange world, which is neither peace nor war. The United States sustained a terrific attack on 9/11, which was not like a war. It was a crime, of course, a terrible crime. But it felt also a bit like a war. We have been asked to respond to it as if it were a war, but there is no clear indication of exactly who is the enemy, or where he or she is to be found. And we are asked to respond to this situation in new ways. We are being asked to change, in some ways. On the other hand, we are being asked to accept things and not change them. It seems to me the question of what we're going to accept -- we as a collective, we Americans, or we New Yorkers, or we people of Massachusetts, or whatever it may be -- what we are being asked to change or to accept should be asked anew every single day, just the way Alcoholics Anonymous people ask it anew every single day individually.
 Reinhold Niebuhr and his brother, H. Richard Niebuhr, wrote prayers.
They were both great writers of prayer. They were very fond of each other, and they were very close. My father and his younger brother (by the way, they had another brother who was not a theologian), who was also a theologian, were close not only in their work but in their lives, although they lived in different cities and had very different temperaments in some respects. They were very dear to each other. They corresponded closely about many things -- about their families, about their work, and about theology. That correspondence, which would throw light on how they talked to each other, is not to be found anywhere. Although I have my childhood memories of how they were in the room together -- that I have vivid memories of -- I don't have very much more than that to go on. I'm not knowledgeable enough to comment on their differing ways of praying, although I have read what both of them have written about prayer, and I could do exegetical analysis of these, but in no expert way.

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