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Reinhold Niebuhr '14BDiv, '15MA, who died in 1971, was a theologian of towering importance who deeply influenced the political life of his time and courageously opposed Nazism in a period when most in his church backed U. Niebuhr himself, when questioned about the prayer, was unassuming—he modestly conceded the possibility that he had assimilated its concept from some earlier, forgotten source—but made clear that he believed he had originated it.Now, new evidence from historical newspaper databases has changed our understanding of its history.

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At least in the English- and German-speaking worlds, this is undoubtedly the most famous prayer originated in modern times, probably the only prayer ever to rival the Lord’s Prayer in the heart of the possibilities for peace.” Sifton writes that it was in the summer of 1943 that her father “composed the Serenity Prayer,” in Heath, Massachusetts, where his family regularly vacationed. Robbins’s only prayer book from the period, Way of Light (1933), contains nothing resembling the Serenity Prayer.“It was in an ordinary Sunday morning service at the Heath Union Church in the summer of 1943 that my father first used his new prayer.” When I found that versions of the prayer had been printed in newspapers before 1943, I contacted Ms. She e-mailed me commenting that “prayers evolve, are borrowed, are transmuted, are revised—by their original writers, by others, and by still more ‘others,’” and that Niebuhr prayed and preached in many different churches around the country. Sifton responding to this one, please see below.) Indeed, in her book she describes Niebuhr’s method of preaching without notes and quotes listeners who found him mesmerizing. wanted in your issue of July 12 is the following, which is complete as printed here clipped from a publication the name of which is not recalled. Elisabeth Sifton e-mailed me that “RN and Robbins were not neighbors in 1934 (we hadn’t moved to Heath yet), they hadn’t yet become friends.” In her book she states: Countless booklets and plaques and Websites tell us that Pa …The book is not a history of the prayer, but Sifton refers to it often, as a touchstone of her father’s thought. Canaday, Toledo, Ohio, thinks this passage may be from Thomas Moore’s “Lalla Rookh.” We could not find it there (Editor). Reinhold Niebuhr, of the Union Theological Seminary, New York City, in about 1932 as the ending to a longer prayer. Howard Robbins, asked permission to use that part of the longer prayer in a compilation he was making at the time. Robbins' book of prayers.” A number of other sources and Niebuhr biographers over the years have put forth an (undocumented) 1934 dating for Niebuhr’s writing of the prayer.She states in her book and has reiterated in interviews that the Serenity Prayer was “composed in wartime.” Although it has been adopted by “our self-help culture,” she writes, “it also addresses the inconsolable pain, loss, and guilt that war inflicts on the communities that wage it; it goes … However, the Grapevine account, like much of the voluminous literature on the prayer’s history, falls apart when closely examined.“Subconscious or even unconscious traces, of course, always play their part in all forms of art—in music as well as literature—and J. One is that Niebuhr wrote the Serenity Prayer in the early or mid-1930s, it quickly disseminated through religious and other circles with the author’s identification largely forgotten, and the database occurrences are traces of that dissemination.

The 1950 Grapevine article quotes Niebuhr himself as saying: “Of course, it may have been spooking around for years, even centuries, but I don’t think so.

Today it is possible to buy jewelry, candles, and many kinds of embroidery kits that feature the prayer—even Zippo lighters. Mc Clure, Mobile, Ala., associated it with the works of Reinhold Niebuhr, associate professor of philosophy at Union Theological Seminary, N. No further identification given by this correspondent about the passage.

The Niebuhr family’s most extensive discussion of the prayer appears in a 2003 book by Elisabeth Sifton, Niebuhr’s daughter, entitled The Serenity Prayer: Faith and Politics in Times of Peace and War. of January 1950 states that the prayer “was actually written by Dr.

The formula of the Serenity Prayer, it is now clear, was circulating before 1936, or at least five years before Niebuhr’s family has said he composed it and used it. It is entirely possible that Niebuhr composed the prayer much earlier than he himself later remembered.

But it also appears possible, indeed plausible, that the great theologian was unconsciously inspired by an idea from elsewhere.

He published the book under the pseudonym Friedrich Oetinger—causing the confusion with the earlier Oetinger. Eliot, Shakespeare (and Jesus, for that matter) often echoed material from the past.” He must have wondered if he had subconsciously recorded a prayer used by his father or one that he had read somewhere years before.