Over Armenian coffee and more, while Ms. Anne Thrope asked questions about his new book, George Donigian began to look around the club to see who he might challenge in backgammon or who might teach him how to better lose a chess match.
“I have only three more questions,” Ms. Anne Thrope said, “In addition to the prayer from Hammarskjold and the one from Jesus, you included the Serenity Prayer, which I have next to the cash register. You surprised me—and maybe others—by quoting a longer version that I had not seen before. The long version certainly goes deeper than the familiar few lines. What about it?”
“Serenity, courage, and wisdom–those key words are how most people know the Serenity Prayer. As you said, the full prayer is much more than that. The full version grounds us in the present, reminding us to take life in the same way that Jesus approached life—one day at a time—and without projecting problems into the future or the past. When you read the full version, it’s easy to understand the importance of the prayer to various 12-Step groups.
“But you know the importance of Reinhold Niebuhr, who gave us the Serenity Prayer. Niebuhr taught at seminary when he wrote the prayer, but he began as a pastor in urban ministry. Detroit was a boom town when he was there. I see a number of parallels between Niebuhr’s time and our own and write about that, and these parallels connect all of us more closely with the Serenity Prayer. One of Niebuhr’s other books—based on journals kept during those years in Detroit—is titled Leaves from the Notebook of a Tamed Cynic. Delightful title and it gives some insight into the character of Niebuhr. And he learned to take it one day at a time.”
Ms. Anne Thrope looked up from her notebook. “I think it is fascinating how you weave your particular story into this book. You describe some disappointments and failures along with the ordinary stuff of life. You write about Armenian heritage and your final acknowledgements were very touching when you spoke of the people who influenced you. What makes you write like this?”
“In the 4th century Augustine of Hippo wrote his autobiographical prayer known as the Confessions. We understand the doctrines Augustine proclaimed because we identify with his story. His story makes everything else credible. I’m certainly not Augustine, but I hope people will see that prayer and life intersect at all times and in all places, bringing an awareness of the holy into the ordinary. Many people write about the mechanics and techniques of prayer. I’ve learned from those books, but I always wanted more from them. So I wrote about these practices and put myself into the writing in many different ways. It’s very personal, and whether or not it’s the right thing to do, I take things personally. Acceptance, rejection—it’s always personal even when people say that it isn’t. And prayer sustains life in the midst of this journey.”
“Last question is a lob: Other than selling a million copies, what hope do you have for the book? What do writers want? Why do you do this?”
“Everything goes to the stinger, that final word in the book. I offer a simple model for daily prayer. After reading the book, I hope that people will want to pray these prayers on a daily basis and let these traditions of prayer to continue to grow in their spiritual practice.
“Why do I write? It’s a gift.”
Aram Boyajian stopped by the table with backgammon board. “Donigian, let’s play for—”