Jun 4, 2024

William Bright


I had not heard of the term “Shiny Object Syndrome” until recently. It’s a phrase used in business to describe our infatuation with new, trendy ideas. We chase after the latest novel idea until the next best thing comes along to divert our attention. We suffer from Shiny Object Syndrome in American culture. We pride ourselves on how enlightened we are and dismiss the past. In the words of the German philosopher Friedrich Hegel, “The only thing we learn from history is that we do not learn from history.” What is it about our modern age that is so great and enduring? Sure, we abhor racism, sexism, and homophobia, yet we conveniently ignore our narcissism, polarization, and environmental pollution. We take too much credit for our progress while vilifying the past. Yet history tells a different story. Some of the best ideas and beliefs belong to our forebears. That’s why we need historians to keep us honest.
William Bright (1824-1901) devoted his life to teaching history at the University of Oxford. He believed the past was invaluable in saving us from the illusions of the present. He compiled a book of prayers in 1864 titled The Ancient Collects and Other Prayers. Collect (pronounced KOL’-ekt) is an old-fashioned word to describe a short prayer. He collected prayers, often drawing upon early church liturgies, to use in private devotions and public worship. At the end of his collection, he supplied his own prayers, including one to be delivered from “coldness of heart and wandering of mind.” He took the words right out of my mouth!

O Almighty God, from whom every good prayer cometh, and who pours out on all who desire it the Spirit of grace and supplications; deliver us when we draw nigh to Thee, from coldness of heart and wanderings of mind; that with steadfast thoughts and kindled affections, we may worship Thee in spirit and in truth; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

William Bright, The Ancient Collects and Other Prayers.

Rev. Dr. Peter James served 42 years as the senior of Vienna Presbyterian Church in Vienna, VA — 21 years in the 20th century and 21 years in the 21st century. He retired in 2021 and now serves as Pastor-in-Residence at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.

Even as a pastor, prayer came slowly to Pete. Read Pete’s story.