Grant that we may run without stumbling to obtain your heavenly promises; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen. (BCP 235)
To run without stumbling … what a beautiful picture. It’s a lovely vision that doesn’t bear too much resemblance to reality, though. Our prayer book life is built around a different picture of what progress in the spiritual life looks like.
The story goes that a visitor approached the abbot one day and asked, “What do you monks do in the monastery?”
“We fall down,” he said. “And we get up again.”
Falling down and getting up is the monastic rhythm, and in our prayer book we can feel that same pulse beating. The Daily Office is built around the monastic hours of prayer and the ancient habit of Christians to begin and end the day in prayer.
Morning and evening we rise to pray, and we fall on our knees to confess our failings. Our voices rise in praise and in song, and our hearts sink when we recognize how we fall short again and again.
If it were up to us, we probably wouldn’t run at all — but it’s not up to us.
This week’s collect begins with the words “Almighty and merciful God, it is only by your gift that your faithful people offer you true and laudable service.”
God’s gift, God’s mercy, is to lift me from the frustration of my stumbling efforts and “set me upon the rock that is higher than I” (Psalm 61:2).
That Rock is Christ, and in him we are able to “run with perseverance the race that is set before us” and, as Paul says, to “lift your dropping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed” (Hebrews 12:1, 12-13).
As another wise sage has put it,
Don’t lose your confidence if you slip
Be grateful for a pleasant trip
And pick yourself up, dust yourself off and start all over again