Where did “The Serenity Prayer” come from?

Used by Alcoholics Anonymous and a very often printed on plaques and cards, the Serenity Prayer is part of our religious cultural fabric, but where did it come from?

According to June Bingham, a biographer of Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971), it was Niebuhr who first penned the prayer and spoke it in a small church in Heath, Massachusetts.

Niebuhr occasionally preached in the small church near the place where he had a summer home. After a service where he spoke the prayer, a man named Howard Chandler Robbins, a neighbor, asked for a copy. According to the story, Niebuhr handed Robbins the original saying, “Here, take the prayer. I have no further use for it.”

Those words do not sound likely but that’s how the story goes. Robbins later published the prayer as part of a pamphlet the following year. Since then it has been adopted as the motto of Alcoholics Anonymous; the U.S.O. distributed millions of copies to U.S. soldiers during World War II; the National Council of Churches reprinted the prayer; it’s re-printed today in many forms. It often has no attribution, but according to Bingham’s biography, Courage to Change, the attribution should go to Niebuhr.

O God, give us serenity to accept what cannot change, courage to change what should be changed, and wisdom to distinguish the one from the other. — Reinhold Niebuhr, 1934

What is poetry?

What is poetry, someone asked . . .

It rhymes sometimes

Emily Dickinson says “If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that it is poetry.”

It’s the Serenity Prayer, the Lord’s Prayer, Psalms and Proverbs

Poetry is what music is made of

Poetry tells stories in very concise ways

Storytellers can be prosaic or poetic, and I like them to be poetic

In poetry pulses creation, and when you read a good one you know you are alive

Once a year I skulk around some musty used bookstore looking for my annual poetry book purchase

This year I bought Robert McDowell, Poetry as Spiritual Practice: Reading, Writing, and using Poetry in Your Daily Rituals, Aspirations, and Intentions.

Robert McDowell says poetry can be spiritual practice

Mr. McDowell also says “you need to know poetry is written in lines, not sentences, which conform to the breathing of its creator rather than to the artificial signposts of punctuation marks and conventional grammar.”

Well, yes, after 22 years of school and graduate school and a decade of editing, I could use some relief from the breathing patterns of punctuation.

As I read I’ll tell you more, but I’ll end by saying that his sub-title is longer than a Haiku and maybe could have been one so I’ll leave you with a sort of sub-title review Haiku of McDowell’s book.

Read and write poems
Deeper meaning in daily life
You will be surprised