Saturday, July 05, 2014

Starck's Motherhood Prayers

I'd heard so many wonderful things about the book

Even though the author is a pietist, I figured that wasn't reason to write off the book.  [Pun.  Bad pun.  Oops.]   I figure that a Christian who values piety so highly (even if too highly) may have some good things to say about prayer.

And boy oh boy, what mixed feelings I have!

On the one hand, I am amazed by the prayers.  They are drenched in scripture.  These samples are what fervent prayer is all about: speaking back to God what He has spoken to us, holding onto His promises, fitting those promises and those words to our situation.  Rebekah explains this superbly.  And I think this is why Emmanuel Press publishes the book.  (By the way, their cards are gorgeous!)

On the other hand, when I first opened the book, Starck and I got off on the wrong foot.

The first thing I saw when I flipped through the book to get an idea of what was there?  A prayer that God would guard me from seeing any deformed person throughout my pregnancy (pp 16, 19).  And if by chance I should see a deformed person, I pray that God would guard my child from being affected by the sight.   Maybe I'm being too touchy, but that really hacked me off.  As I crabbed about it to Gary, he asked who I saw without an arm when I was pregnant with Katie.  And he pondered how it happened that I "saw" somebody's heart defect and palate defect when I was pregnant with Maggie.

The next thing I noticed was the part about the churching of a mother, and how a mother will spend six weeks after childbirth at home resting.  I realize that people respond differently to childbirth, and I realize that some mothers appreciate this hiatus from work and being out among other people.  But to use Leviticus to make a law of this?  And to tell mothers that they are disobeying God to get out of bed and do some work in those first weeks?  No wonder Starck is talking about the mother's weakness and how she needs to pray for strength!  After spending two weeks in an ICU bed recently, I am weak.  Too much rest destroys a person's strength.  It is not "wantonness" deserving of "injury for wanting to be wiser than God" (p 53) for a woman to "move about" during this time. 

I understand and agree with Starck's comments about how it's better for mother and baby when the mother is cheerful and thankful.  But it's going too far to say that "an outburst of hot temper" during pregnancy indicates "impatience at her fruitfulness, and consequently an act of ingratitude" for which God may punish her (p 16).  

Similarly (p 64) we hear that God has placed children into our keeping, and if they be lost, "then shall thy life be for its life."   I see where such a statement could flow from pietism.  But those who believe in original sin and know that it is the Holy Spirit (and not we ourselves) who preserves us in the true faith, such people cannot believe that God punishes Christian parents whose children go astray.

So I approach the final chapter with caution.  The naughty perspective is such a small portion of the book.  So much of the book flows from scripture to another scripture to hymn stanza and back to more psalms.  What will he say about the barren mother?  I noticed that, in Rebekah's review, she said she hadn't read that concluding chapter.  In my opinion, that's just as well.  The dear friend who gave me the book said that the chapter on barrenness was full of information that helped her, and she said there was truth there which was hard to hear, but nevertheless the words were good.  My perspective was a little ... uh ... angrier.

I think Starck tries to delve into the hidden mysteries of God when he attempts to give reasons why God chooses to withhold the gift of children from some couples.  And some of those reasons can be very hurtful.  And untrue.  And can contradict what we so often say about the good gift of children to those expectant mothers who are distressed about finances or the future.  And again, he goes too far when he says that married people should beware of "importunate prayers" because God may just go ahead and give them a child that will make them miserable for the rest of their lives (p 72).  ("Take that, you peons.  Don't question Me.  Don't keep praying to Me.  Yes, I did say to pray persistently.  But don't be too persistent.  Because then I'll teach you a lesson.  Ha!  That'll show you not to keep begging."  Uh, yeah, that's not my God.)

Thing is, there's some truth there.  It's not good to keep demanding things of God as if we are the boss and He is the servant.  But the pietist apparently has a good knowledge of when he's praying in a holy way, as opposed to those who pray in grief and feel the accusations of Satan that they are Not Content Enough.

While there is much good to be found in this prayerbook [again, see the review over at Concordian Sisters] I really would much prefer Luther's Prayers or Gerhard's Meditations on Divine Mercy or even the Pastoral Care Companion.

One more thing:  Although the title is "Motherhood Prayers for All Occasions," it's not.  It's for the perinatal time; it's not for all occasions. The book is not for mothers whose kids are off in the army.  It's not for mothers whose kids are getting married or divorced.   It's not for mothers whose children have all died.  It's not for mothers whose kids have left the faith and/or left the family.  It provides prayers for the one particular niche, which is either a strength or weakness in the book, depending on your own perspective and place in life.

* Footnote:   Well, I guess in a way it's for all people,
no matter what the occasion, because the prayers use 
Bible verses which apply to anyone struggling.  But 
the specific application is only to that one portion of 


  1. Hi Susan,
    Glad you are feeling better. I always like perusing your blog because you post such interesting topics, but I was saddened to learn you have been quite ill. God's continued blessings to you and your family.

    I have Starck's Prayer Book and I just find it hard to use maybe because the prayers and devotions seem too long to me. Pastor Weedon just raved about it so I figured it would be okay. The pietism is very apparent in this book also.
    Anyway, hope you continue to get better and stronger.

    Diane Hammond

  2. Thank you, Diane, for your good wishes. I hope things are going well for you and Burt!

    I find it a happy thing to read your comment about my being "quite ill" when I just came up from the basement after changing a load of wash, as a break from vacuuming cobwebs in the living room, cleaning cat hair off the couch, and dusting shelves. Hey, things are in need of deep-cleaning after my giving it short-shrift those years I was working, plus ignoring the house completely for the last two months. I'm thankful for all the work Gary and the kids have expended while I've been down. It's nice to see the "quite ill" days morphing into something that is now merely a lot of fatigue. I have to be careful (now that I'm delving back into chores) that I do not overdo. Because I'm definitely prone to overdoing.

    You're right about the length of the prayers in Starck's book. They ARE very long. I guess if it's a woman's first pregnancy, she may have more time for devotions. But when there are munchkins around who need breakfast, clean diapers, baths, stories, trips to the playground, etc, Mom's "prayer" (her speaking back to God what He has spoken to her) is often primarily her mundane care of the children's needs.

    I haven't seen the regular prayer book -- just the Motherhood Prayers. But if the other one is like the mom-book, I can imagine the pietism comes through aplenty. Sad thing is, I don't need any coaching in pietism; my sinful nature has gobs of it all on my own. I need Jesus poured into me in big enough measure to counteract my own pietism.