You may have noticed the absence of any reflections which appear as my newsletter articles for the past four months. My silence is a direct result of my recent health issues. To my parishioners and others who read this, my apologies for the gap.
Since every event is potentially both a crisis and an opportunity, I’ve opted to try to learn how to adapt to a new style of life. For most of the last 50 years, work has shaped or even defined much of whom I think myself of as being—that is, my work was the basis of my being, whether I admitted it or not. Obviously, that central identity does not square with the Good News that all of us are God’s beloved children, accepted and loved because God acts that way—we do not have to achieve anything to have that value in God’s sight. But to feed my ego, I know that I have worked to achieve and struggled and feared failure because it would imperil my own sense of worth. Since it was my ego and my definition of value, I probably made an idol of those aspirations. Becoming ill shook the foundations of that delusion and reminded me of how God sees things. Having your whole worldview exposed as flawed is a humbling experience.
Yet, by God’s grace, I am pleased that God continues to provide the strength and ability to continue as priest-in-charge of Christ the King and Saint Luke’s, for the health crisis at first made it seem as though I would not be able to work at all. I thank God for my recovery, despite some things which are still being worked out, and for the learning that has been granted from this experience.
As I try to rebuild my life during this time of recovery, I have established new patterns for using time and structuring my days. As is expected of priests, I have tried to follow the Daily Office on a regular basis, but I’ll admit that, over the years, finding the right time (or any time) for regular, structured daily prayer has been a challenge. I have been busy, and that busyness has often been the excuse for not following this spiritual discipline. In contrast, as soon as I was able to read and focus, while even still in the ICU, I have been following the Daily Office, particularly Morning Prayer. And now that I am at home, Morning Prayer is my first order of business every morning.
I can’t tell you what a joy and source of peace it has been to slip on some clothing, grab a cup of coffee (although that is not in the rubrics as part of the rite), and sit on the glider on our front porch in the early light and begin the Office.
Some parts of the service are invariable:
Lord open our lips.
And our mouth shall proclaim your praise.
This opening versicle and response uses the plural, reminding me as I sit alone on my front porch that others across the world, at various times and in many places, singly and in communities, are beginning their day in worship and praise to the Creator. By reciting those phrases, I realize that using these ancient texts and centuries-old liturgy binds me to a community across time and space, reaching into the future – a community of faithful people who draw their strength from God, even as I am seeking to do during my time of prayer.
In the past four months of my recovery, by personal worship using the Daily Office, I have been able to engage large tracks of the Old Testament, much of the Gospel of John, Acts, various epistles, and virtually the whole Psalter. Each day of the week has its own set of Canticles, just as each week and holy day has its own proper Collect. Day by day, my prayers follow cycles of days, weeks, and seasons. The repetition of these fixed sections interwoven with variables recurring and repeating themselves at regular intervals reminds me of nothing so much as the clockwork gears one sees when you open the face of a grandfather clock and watch the way it ticks away each second of time. Thus do I keep “sacred time” and regulate my prayers and encounters with God through Scriptures, thanksgivings, intercessions, and petitions as in spirit I join with other Anglicans across the globe.
Leaving behind the inevitable cycle of work and its timetables which governed and ordered so much of my day, I have been able to use the Morning Office to reestablish at least a foundation for each day. This practice has helped to center me, literally putting God and my time with God on the daily agenda and at the top of it. It has brought me into contact with stories and scriptural lessons which I otherwise would not have reread. It has deepened my appreciation of all the range of emotions embodied in the Psalms, from despair to hope, from wonder to thanksgiving to praise. And with each repetition of the Psalms, their words become more deeply written on my heart, so that their sentiments resonate within my spirit.
Even on those occasions when it has not been possible for me actually to read through Morning Prayer, I find myself repeating that opening versicle and the Venite (“come, let us sing to the Lord!”), affirming the ancient baptismal faith using the Apostles Creed and opening myself to the power of the Lord’s Prayer. The rite, and therefore my own personal prayers, closes with a list of intercessions for those who’ve asked me to pray for them or whose situation calls for prayer on their behalf. This I can do from memory, and in its abbreviated form, it has the same effect of keeping God on my early-morning agenda.
What a remarkable thing life is in its ups and downs! As frightening as my health crisis was, and as disruptive to what I considered my normal life of work it proved to be, out of it came an opportunity to reset my priorities and to deepen my spiritual life. Among the things I have learned – and this is underscored for me by the Daily Office – is a new appreciation for each and every day that I’ve been granted as a genuine gift from God. With this in mind, I begin my set of free intercessions with my own particular thanks for this particular day and a request that the Lord will guide my use of it.
I don’t know whether I should apologize for the extremely personal tone of this article, but each person’s relationship to God–both the forms which the relationship takes and the practices which it engenders in us–is finally always personal. The Person of God to whom I cry out is nothing like the idea or conceptualization of God which I read about in theology. And the person that I am in Christ has been given life and called forth by the living Spirit which dwells within me. When I write about a formalized expression of that spirit in my daily prayers, I can only speak in my own personal voice and confess the “I” acknowledges his life as coming from God and sustained by God’s grace.
Glad to be back in print sharing with you all!