Puritan Prayers & Devotions

Puritans walking to church on the Sabbath.
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Among the Puritans, communication with God through prayers and devotions was an important part of daily life. Puritan prayers were often fairly long appeals to God, while devotions typically took the form of hymns, poems and sermons. Otherwise, Puritan prayers and devotions have more similarities than differences. Both included many allusions from the Bible and had similar themes. Both have recognized literary merit. Also, both prayers and devotions provide insight into Puritan life in Colonial America.

1 Prayers and Devotions

Prayer, as defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary, is “an address to God or a god in word or thought.” Typically prayers express earnest requests or wishes. A devotion is “an act of prayer or private worship.” A devotion can also be a religious exercise or practice outside the regular worship ritual. Prayers and devotions took place at home and at church. People said grace before meals and had family prayer and devotional rituals. Children learned to read from devotional verses. Church services were simple, and because all musical instruments were forbidden, Puritans sang a cappella.

2 Biblical Allusions and Themes

The Puritans believed that the Bible was the direct word of God. In their prayers and devotions, the Bible was the primary source of information, and biblical allusions were frequently used to convey complex themes. For example, the book of Genesis provided allusions to Adam’s fall from grace. The Puritan interpretation is the concept of original sin, which suggests that all humans are sinners. The Puritans also believed in the absolute wisdom, authority and power of God. Puritan authors often alluded to both the Old Testament and the New Testament.

3 Literary Merit

Puritan prayers and devotions provide sophisticated examples of complex literary devices. The hymns provide examples of prosody. Other sound devices, such as alliteration, rhyme and repetition, are common features in both prayers and devotions. Pastor and poet Edward Taylor used extended metaphor in his poetic comparison of a spinning wheel and his personal faith. Parallelism and argumentation were used in the sermons. Metaphor, simile and other literary comparisons are also features of Puritan writing.

4 Insight into Puritan Life

The themes in Puritan prayers and devotions suggest optimism, pious idealism and commitment to God and community. Puritan writers tend to use direct language. They avoid unnecessary ornateness of expression. The writing is honest and suggests an appreciation of living life simply. However, the artistic rendering of the language in the prayers and devotions suggests that the Puritans were not dour and humorless. Instead, they understood the beauty of art and expression.

Meg English has been an education professional for more than 25 years. She has taught elementary, middle and high school students in both inner-city and rural schools. She also publishes a weekly newspaper column titled "Education Matters." English holds a doctorate in educational administration from the University of South Dakota.