Preamble: This is not a theological defense or attack. It is not a thesis. It is a thought or two, a consideration, an encouragement. I also confess I am an Anglican, a Catholic Evangelical… So, get over those hurdles and start from a post-reformation saint trying to authentically and orthodoxically follow the Messiah… Now, read on!
I have Catholic roots. I have evangelical roots. I am an Evangelical Anglo-Catholic who is a missional missionary and leader in an urban post-Christian post-modern reality in a western context. I suffer the same over marketed drowning culture as you, if you’re reading this! There is no space for reflection, getting perspective unless one turns off, tunes out, blocks space to slow down and actually really do real thinking and meditating.
Ever been in a time praying with others and the most common phrases were, “Lord we just…” or “hmmm…” and rambling 1000 words to say what could be said in 50? Yet in those times come birthing authenticity and earnestness. There is strength and weakness. Like most things in life, it is not complete or holistic. It becomes trite and shallow and only includes what we feel and think about right now… in the moment and doesn’t help us see, think, feel (also known as align) with God, His will, or transform us, but reduces prayer to our limited shallow theology and emotions of the day. BUT it also presents the real needs of the day – and mysteriously God includes us in His efficacious engagement with the world by moving in our prayer! A mystery! I heard it said recently that God somehow includes us, begins our reign with Him even now, even sharing His power with us, by making us part of the way He moves! A huge mandate to intercede!
Yet that is incomplete.
I have experienced seasons (two plus years to be gut honest!) where it was dark, real dark. I had no words. I was out of words. I didn’t feel and what I did sense was dark! I didn’t even have energy to intercede regularly. The only thing that kept me; what healed me; what sustained me – was praying the Divine offices…. regular times of prayer every day, where I was led, like spiritual therapy, as compared with physical therapy. It impacted me emotionally, mentally from the core of spiritual therapy. It guided me, reminded me, told me and exhorted me – because my heart was too dark to remember. I am every grateful for those times of liturgy.
I am also limited – I need and have come to find encouragement, even transformation in liturgy! I have found that it helps me get how to worship and adore Him, without a string of dime store, supermarket check out queue romance novel empty words I don’t relate to beyond mental ascent, but certainly not with the faithfulness of the command to Love the Lord my God with all of my mind, all of my body, all of my heart, all of my strength (will).
Why? What is the draw to the liturgy? Most holistically, what is the draw to a holistic and authentic use of liturgy – which makes plenty of room for the need of the day, the intentions of the heart, the aches and emotions that need and should be expressed?
There are several reasons for this BOTH AND to be holistic and healthy and that any liturgy provides for the former and while shaping us in the latter. First, We don’t reflect seasonally or thoroughly through all of the things we should reflect upon without a plan, a calendar. We don’t remember well at all. Liturgy drives this. Second, Liturgy is mostly Scripture! All Anglican and Catholic, and Orthodox liturgies are formed and collected from Scripture. Can one object to praying Scripture? Third, by the first two, it helps form us, transform us, and align us. Ever pray, “Your will be done?” Ever pray “we want what you want God?” Well, this is how we align our desire, our posture, our perspective to God. Scripture guides us, and the liturgy is in a schedule, a routine that helps us think through and worship in a holistic way. Fourth, Liturgy aligns our world, our lives along God’s paradigm, instead of a pagan calendar… these two are a step closer to a Biblical world view. In a world where there is less than 10% Biblical world view held by the Christian population of all traditions, this would be very helpful.
Furthermore, when you reach – and you will – if you’re young and in denial, okay, I’ll wait for life to slap the ever loving s*** out of you and you’ll be back to tell me you now get it – that point where you cannot even form a prayer, the liturgy takes you there, where you should and need to be and that transformation and slow realignment, rebirth of your soul can occur – because it aligns you with Him, His will, His perspective, and the release to trust and allow God to be, well, God! It’s surrender, but that’s not popular today.
These well written, theologically thought through liturgies and prayers are the 50 words to say what can be said in 50 words, verses 1000 to say what could be said in 50! They are thought out, constructed, well chosen vocabulary, and have been prayed and reflected upon and sharpened over centuries. There is wisdom in listening to good orators, or reading good writing – well, here you are! AND it’s shared and prayed with thousands of others same day and in a world where the time zones shift, it means it is prayed repeatedly every hour for twenty-four hours! AND it’s been prayed for centuries. It exposes you to others. Within the Anglican tradition there are approved liturgies and prayer books across the globe. They are the same, but also include innovative thought through contributions of others.
Then for those who are passionate about expressing what’s on the heart, liturgy provides space every time you gather to pray openly, in your own earnest passion about anything and everything! It also frames prayer to include the things and reflect the values of a diocese, a society, today. So, there is nothing lost.
I think the resistance when we get honest, is a) uneducated fear of it being unorthodox or boring, or too rigid, b) not accustomed to anyone having any form – we so embrace no form (discipline) of any type, we resist it even when it’s good to allow input to help form us holistically. Think of it as doing sit-ups; if you only do crunches and belly muscle work, you’ll be humped over in a short time, because you haven’t holistically trained your body to also address the counter balance of strengthening the back; and c) the lie of our time that if it’s old its irrelevant and modern only is good. Additionally, I think we don’t know how to focus, to slow down, to listen well. Liturgy provides that space – we need it desperately! Our lack of it has birthed theology for how we feel today – lack of orthodoxy at best and heresy at worst. We’re moved by the emotion of today… because we feel it earnestly doesn’t make it right or true; yet it has become the arbitrating reality today.
So, give it a consideration! Don’t go nuts. Where I am, we practice morning and evening prayers together. It’s not some painful hour for our busy contemporary lives. It’s 8.30a and 5.30p… It frames the day. The New Zealand Anglican Prayer book also offers a short mid-day prayer and compline/night prayer for the end of the day. It is chalked with variations and options, festival days, etc, providing variance and routine and freedom to adapt and move with the earnestness of the day. It is respected not just by the global Anglican Communion, but other traditions as well. There is also the Book of Common Prayer – still used (with editing over time) since the early 1600’s! One can also draw from the Orthodox and Catholic Missals. Our fore-fathers and mothers developed Divine offices, set times of day where different forms/types/postures/purposes of prayer occur. I practice seven offices each day – none are ordinarilly long, five alone, some very brief, altering time when conflicting in a meeting, etc. I vary how I do it, but it helps me, forms me, reminds me, makes sure I practice all the postures from intercession, to repentance, to adoration, etc. Do I ever just pray? You bet – regular form of life for me; and at times do retreats, as well as long prayer walks on my own, where I just talk with God – telling Him more than one would ever want!
To sum it up, in good consolation seasons of life, or the dark nights of the soul, it keeps me. It keeps me when I can’t keep it. It helps me holistically seek, know and be known, to posture myself and keep perspective. I’ll give you one short example. At 4p daily, my phone/laptop/pad gives me a reminder for none (9th hour of the day prayer… anytime from 3-4p daily… I set mine for 4p because it best fits my life demands. At none prayer, the reminder in my phone has notes to help remind me, a very short liturgy that helps me keep perspective, to think, be reminded and to align my heart to God’s – to surrender. How? Here is my None prayer: “It is mid to late afternoon. It is the fading part of the day, the time of decline, when shadows begin to lengthen. The fading of time brings home death and impermanence and the need to connect with something transcendent.” This simple reminder puts my very temporal time here on earth in perspective with the eternal reality inwhich I live. I don’t take myself or my contribution in this world so serious that I think “I’m all that.” It reminds me I am small and I serve with authenticity and sincerity, but the world is His! In the notes of this reminder for None, is “None is nine; the night hour of the day. It is mid to late afternoon. It is the fading part of the day, the time of decline, when shadows begin to lengthen. The fading of time brings home death and impermanence and the need to connect with something transcendent (beyond time). This perspective helps us connect with what is most important. It is an opportunity to acknowledge the limits of our lives.” You see? It keeps me. It keeps me a humble disciple. I’ll not bore you with all of my prayer structure here, but will gladly share them with you if they would help. In the mean time, I encourage you to consider adding liturgy to your rhythm of life as a Christ follower. For a taster, I’d recommend Common Prayer, http://commonprayer.net/. It’s a once a day contemporary taster for anabaptist traditions. You can also source the NZ Prayer Book, http://anglicanprayerbook.nz/, or the Book of Common Prayer, along with many other resources, http://anglicansonline.org/resources/bcp.html. Feel free to research divine offices, etc. Don’t go nuts! Start slow – mine grew over years of practice and experimenting, participating with monks and living in and amongst Anglicans here in New Zealand.
In closing – I’m not saying ditching spontaneity in prayer. Of course pray without ceasing. Pray when needs arise, when parting or gathering, or for a specific move in the heart – including the persecuted church which is always on my heart (!). BUT be holistic, as one is with exercise or diet. Be healthy! Your body will wear out and die. Your soul – who you are is eternal! So be healthy! Learn to see life (think, feel, posture, attitude, action) in a holistic healthy full orthodoxy and allow yourself to be shaped by Scripture as you pray and pray together! My experience is people who practice this, especially committed with a group of others, come to faithfully value it and miss it immensely when it’s not a regular part of their lives! And I’m talking about millennials, not boomers or x’ers.
I’d love to hear how others are experiencing this!