Tag Archives: Daily Office

Solemnly engaging to conform

Will you be loyal to the doctrine, discipline, and worship of Christ as this Church has received them? And will you, in accordance with the canons of this Church, obey your bishop and other ministers who may have authority over you and your work?

 Answer

 I am willing and ready to do so; and I solemnly declare that I do believe the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be the Word of God, and to contain all things necessary to salvation; and I do solemnly engage to conform to the doctrine, discipline, and worship of the Episcopal Church. (BCP 526)

Engaging to conform

I have already been living under this vow for 20 years as an ordained deacon in the Episcopal Church, but I have been invited to reflect on it again as I prepare for ordination to the priesthood.

First and foremost, I believe the center of this particular vow – in response to the bishop’s questions about loyalty and obedience – is the promise to engage to conform.

Doctrine, discipline, and worship may be the legal matter of this vow, but conforming (both willingly and readily) is the spiritual energy of this promise made by bishops, priests, and deacons at their ordination.

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:2)

We live in a culture that does not value conformity, but rather tries to sell us on the endless allure of newness, entrepreneurialism, start-ups, and fashion.

Being transformed away from that culture, away from conformity to that world, means the “renewing of our minds” toward the good, the acceptable, the perfect. Being transformed toward good requires the paradoxical conformity of humility.

Humility means learning the hard lesson that there are people who know more, and know better, than I do. As I have realized often in my professional career and in 20 years as a deacon (and more recently in three years of recovery), I can learn from the experiences of people who know what I need to know only to the extent that I am willing and ready to conform to “the steps we took, which are suggested as a program of recovery,” or to the experience of my colleagues, or to the practice of the Church’s disciplines.

church-circle-graphic

Discipline

I have been taking an online Canon Law course through Bexley Seabury this fall, so I now happen to know that where clergy discipline is concerned:

Discipline of the Church shall be found in the Constitution, the Canons and the Rubrics and the Ordinal of the Book of Common Prayer. (IV.2)

The church’s disciplines are not random, but have organic beginnings in the early Church and have developed over time as society has changed.

In our particular branch of the Church, we have disciplines that include organizing ourselves in General Convention and dioceses and parishes, agreeing how we will worship (down to the fine print), and setting out requirements for ordaining bishops, priests, and deacons.

Engaging to conform to the discipline of the Church means willingly working within the political structures of General Convention, the diocese, and the parish – even if you are working ultimately to change those structures.

It means willingly participating in an ordination process that involves many other people, even if (as my faculty advisor observed a long time ago) it’d be easier just to stand on the street corner and say, “I’m a preacher!”

Napoleon Dynamite Gosh

It means willingly observing the fine print of the prayer book or other services authorized by Convention, whether you agree with the changes or not.

I’ve always worked in large, bureaucratic organizations, so I’m perfectly comfortable with the fact that there are policies and procedures – disciplines – that govern the way we live, and work, and worship together.

Worship

Together or alone, we Episcopalians worship God the Father, through the Holy Spirit, in the Name of Jesus Christ.

In just the same way as the disciplines of the Church have changed over time, so too has the Church’s worship, whether personal devotions or corporate prayer.

From the very basics – fasting and the Lord’s Prayer – to personal prayers several times a day, to gatherings of Christians morning and evening, to splendid Byzantine liturgies and daily Latin Masses, to monastic offices, to worship in the vernacular and the Reformation focus on the reading of Scripture, the Church’s worship has changed and evolved in myriad ways throughout the 20 centuries since Jesus’ time.

Engaging to conform to the Church’s pattern of worship means, for me, praying “by the book” using the daily offices of Morning and Evening Prayer.

Though the public offering of the Daily Office has not been required of clergy in the American Episcopal Church as it was in England, it’s the heartbeat of the English prayer book tradition and an unparalleled practice for hearing and responding to the Holy Scriptures. Other forms of personal prayer, like meditation and Centering Prayer, supplement the offices and give me a chance to be silent and receptive, communing with God in that way.

Secondly, even though for a long time Sunday worship in the English and American Church featured Morning Prayer and only occasional Communion, the pattern since 1979 (and in many places even before I was born) has been to celebrate the Holy Eucharist every Sunday and on other Major Feasts. The prayer book rubrics are clear on the subject.

I read an article this week in The Living Church by Andrew Pearson, a cathedral dean who says “we are a Morning Prayer parish in the first place, already differentiating ourselves from nearly every other Episcopal church in the United States.”

Engaging to conform, to my mind, means setting aside that kind of idiosyncratic preference in favor of practicing and promoting the Church’s current pattern of corporate worship.

It’s often said (by Episcopalians, at least) that “praying shapes believing.” Practicing the Episcopal Church’s discipline and following the pattern of the Episcopal Church’s worship reveals the Episcopal Church’s doctrine.

Doctrine

According to the canons of the Episcopal Church:

Doctrine shall mean the basic and essential teachings of the Church and is to be found in the Canon of Holy Scripture as understood in the Apostles and Nicene Creeds and in the sacramental rites, the Ordinal and Catechism of the Book of Common Prayer. (IV.2)

In the parishes and dioceses of the Episcopal Church we baptize new members of Christ’s body, making and renewing promises before God as we recite the Apostle’s Creed.

We pray morning and evening, reading from the Holy Scriptures and reciting that same baptismal creed. We celebrate the Holy Eucharist every Sunday, reading from the Holy Scriptures and reciting the Nicene Creed in affirmation of the faith we hold.

We confirm lay persons and marry people and ordain ministers in the context of the Holy Eucharist. In other sacramental rites, we reconcile the penitent, pronouncing on them God’s absolution; we minister to the sick, laying hands on them and anointing them with oil for healing; we bury the dead, commending them to God in the sure and certain hope of the Resurrection.

Exsultet at Holy Communion

Our doctrine is our common prayer, and it is to be found in its disciplines.

My teaching over the years – in the catechumenate, in abuse prevention training, in Deacons’ School, in Episcopal 101, at retreats, on this blog, in Education for Ministry – has been, and will always be, rooted in the Book of Common Prayer and the Holy Scriptures, as the Episcopal Church uses them.

I stand willing and ready once more to engage to conform.

12 Steps of Christmas | Monday

Step Eleven – “Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, asking only for knowledge of His will and the power to carry that out.”

Morning Prayer for this Monday after the Second Sunday after Christmas can be found here.

Live wisely

Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, making the most of the time, because the days are evil. So do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; but be filled with the Spirit, as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts, giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Eph. 5:15-20)

Step Eleven lies behind this whole series of posts, as it is where the life-giving practice of recovery meets the life-giving practice of the Daily Office.

Prayer and meditation are practices by which we seek to listen to what God is saying and by which we ask for the wisdom we need for the day.

The Daily Office is, of course, a form of prayer. It is not meditation per se, though it may be done meditatively.

There is a direct linkage among self-examination, meditation, and prayer. Taken separately, these practices can bring much relief and benefit. But when they are logically related and interwoven, the result is an unshakable foundation for life. (98)

The closest parallel between recovery and the Daily Office is the reading and re-reading of the basic texts.

Meeting after meeting, in A.A. we read from the “Big Book” Alcoholics Anonymous or from the slim volume Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions — to which we have been referring in this series of posts — or from any number of books written by the early founders of the fellowship, like As Bill Sees It.

Just so, in the Daily Office we read and re-read the basic texts of Christianity in the context of Morning and Evening Prayer.

The Psalms we pray every seven weeks. The Hebrew Bible, or the Old Testament, we read in course over a two-year period. The New Testament we read each year.

In both cases, we soak ourselves in the wisdom of our tradition, in the accumulated experience of those women and men who have gone before us.

 

Listen attentively

I will listen to what the LORD God is saying,
for he is speaking peace to his faithful people
and to those who turn their hearts to him. (Ps. 85:8)

Meditation is the basic spiritual practice of sitting quietly in God’s presence and listening for God to speak to our situation.

The actual experience of meditation and prayer across the centuries is, of course, immense. The world’s libraries and places of worship are a treasure trove for all seekers. It is to be hoped that every A.A. who has a religious con- nection which emphasizes meditation will return to the practice of that devotion as never before. (98)

What Step Eleven describes on pages 99-100 as a practice for those unfamiliar with meditation is what the Christian tradition calls lectio divina, or holy reading.

That approach, like the study of the Big Book or the 12 and 12, begins with reading and re-reading a particular text (in this case the “Prayer of St. Francis” is given).

Lord, make us instruments of your peace. Where there is hatred, let us sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is discord, union; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy. Grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen. (BCP 833)

However, lectio divina is less about intellectual study than it is about listening for God to speak through the text. Monastic teachers talk about lectio as “rumination,” like a cow chewing the cud to extract every ounce of nutrients out of the grass.

Another form of meditation better known in Eastern religions is simply to sit in silence, letting thoughts arise and fade away. Sometimes called “mindfulness meditation” or, in the Christian tradition “Centering Prayer,” this form of meditation accomplishes two things.

First, we practice the absolutely critical recovery skill of detaching from our thoughts. Thoughts arise and we do not engage them. How revolutionary for us addicts to realize that we do not have to act on every thought that arises! Meditation helps release us from what A.A. calls “stinking thinking.”

Second, and especially in Centering Prayer, we embody our trust in God (or our Higher Power) by sitting in the presence of the One who loves us. We begin to learn that we are valuable because of who we are, not because of what we do.

In meditation we may begin over time to experience that “daily reprieve contingent on the maintenance of our spiritual condition” (Big Book 85).

Far from being a burden, practicing meditation is an oasis.

Live cheerfully

Finally, Step Eleven is the transition point between the discrete Steps that have come before and the days that stretch out ahead of us — “one day at a time.”

Tomorrow we will consider in Step Twelve how we “practice these principles in all our affairs,” but for today we ask only for knowledge of God’s will and the power to carry that out.

A Collect for the Renewal of Life

O God, the King eternal, whose light divides the day from the night and turns the shadow of death into the morning: Drive far from us all wrong desires, incline our hearts to keep your law, and guide our feet into the way of peace; that, having done your will with cheerfulness while it was day, we may, when night comes, rejoice to give you thanks; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (BCP 99)

Daily visitation

How resonant that word, “daily.”

“Daily we begin again to put into practice the Lord’s teaching,” says the Rule of Benedict.

“One Day at a Time” say those of us in recovery.

Richard, Bishop of Chichester (1197-1253), is popularly credited with this prayer, made familiar both by Ralph Vaughn Williams and the musical Godspell:

Day by day,
Dear Lord, of thee three things I pray:
To see thee more clearly,
Love thee more dearly,
Follow thee more nearly,
Day by Day.

“The Holy Eucharist, the principal act of Christian worship on the Lord’s Day and other major feasts, and Daily Morning and Evening Prayer, as set forth in this Book, are the regular services appointed for public worship in this church,” says our own Book of Common Prayer (BCP 13).

May your daily visitation with the Lord be a source of blessing and strength, both this day and always.

Friends abiding in Christ

The Fellowship of St. John is composed of men and women throughout the world who desire to live their Christian life in special association with the Society of St. John the Evangelist … Together [with the brothers] they form an extended family, a company of friends abiding in Christ and seeking to bear a united witness to him as “the Way, the Truth, and the Life,” following the example of the Beloved Disciple. (Rule of the FSJ)

Singing the Daily Office

I was first drawn to the Society of St. John the Evangelist because of the Daily Office.

When I was in the Diocese of Chicago’s discernment process leading to ordination as a deacon, I attended a weekend retreat held at the DeKoven Center in Racine, WI. In the bookshop (a necessity wherever Episcopalians gather) I found a cassette tape of the SSJE brothers discussing and singing Morning and Evening Prayer.

I’m a devotee of the Daily Office, as those who read this blog will understand.

What I found most attractive about SSJE was that they were a monastic order who worshiped according to the Book of Common Prayer. That meant they were praying essentially the same prayers I was, using the same forms for Morning and Evening Prayer, for Noonday Prayer, and for Compline.

My own project, so to speak, has been to pray the Daily Office “by the book” these last 20 years — and I find immense support and encouragement knowing that the brothers are praying from the same book.

A sign to the Church

Later I came to value even more the Society’s wisdom about Christian community.

When the Church Insurance Company began to mandate training in sexual misconduct prevention in the early 1990s, the Diocese of Chicago’s pastoral care officer (Chilton Knudsen, who went on to be Bishop of Maine) invited me to help write the curriculum for the diocese.

All told, I spent more than a dozen years training lay people and clergy in the Dioceses of Chicago and Milwaukee in the prevention of child abuse and sexual harassment.

The early years of teaching were very difficult. Nobody wants to talk about child sexual abuse in the first place. Lay people, especially vestry members, resented the mandatory training that focused so heavily on penalties — up to and including the threat of losing insurance coverage. Clergy resented being told how to practice pastoral care and being required to accept limits on their freedom.

The tension was palpable; I would finish each four-hour training session with a splitting headache.

When the community published their Rule of the Society of St. John the Evangelist in 1997, I discovered in its pages an extended meditation on right relationship in Christian community.

The contemporary Rule helped me reframe my teaching, away from penalties and toward a vision of ministry and interpersonal behavior so clear, so transparent, that any attempt at abuse would stand out by sharp contrast.

That vision of right relationship also transformed those who attended the training in later years. Rather than grudging, reluctant attendance, parish leaders became more eager to invite each year’s new Sunday School teachers and youth workers. Many parishes even began scheduling training sessions a year in advance.

Christ’s gift of enduring love

Meditating on the SSJE community’s Rule transformed not only my teaching, but also my own spirituality.

I began training sessions with an icon of Jesus and the Beloved Disciple — an image of the intimacy which God desires each one of us to experience with God and with each other.

Icon of the Beloved Disciple from Mt. Angel Abbey

Icon of the Beloved Disciple from Mt. Angel Abbey

My teaching focused on the ordering of our affections and our disciplined care for vulnerable children and adults, over against the disorganized, scatter-shot attention to safety that is too prevalent in our institutions.

My spiritual life these last 17 years has blossomed with extended reflection on the Beloved Disciple and intimacy with God.

That’s not to say I don’t fall short, and sometimes pretty spectacularly. Disorder and lack of discipline, sin and failing, are a daily reality. The Rule of Benedict, on which most Western monastic Rules are based, observes that “every day we begin again to follow our Lord’s teaching.”

What I have come to understand in the company of the SSJE brothers is that I do not need to hide from that suffering, for it will be transformed by Christ and will bear fruit in my life.

If we abide in that perfect love shown on the cross we will receive the grace to face together all that we are tempted to run from in fear. Christ’s gift of enduring love will be the heart of our life as a community … Love will make us [people] of faith who know God’s power to bring life out of death. (SSJE Rule, Chapter Two).

 

Daily Office Basics

Daily Office Basics

The Daily Office Anchor Society will be actual, not just virtual, in February.

Join me on Saturday, February 15 from 8:30 to noon at St. Thomas Church, 226 Washington Street, Menasha WI 54952 for a program on Daily Office Basics.

Many Christians choose to observe Lent with “special acts of discipline or self-denial” such as praying Morning or Evening Prayer.

On February 15, you will not only learn how to pray the Church’s daily offices but you will also receive a variety of resources to help you navigate what may be an unfamiliar or confusing practice. We will have plenty of time for questions and sharing with each other.

We will enjoy coffee and light refreshments at 8:30 am and begin with Morning Prayer at 9 am. The program will conclude promptly at noon.

20 minutes with Derek Olsen

Richard Mammana, Jr. interviews Derek Olsen today in The Living Church.

I cannot praise Derek’s work highly enough. I commend his blog haligweorc (he explains the name in the article) to anyone wanting solid food on the subject of liturgical spirituality. He is, to use his own words, “a tireless advocate for the Book of Common Prayer and the spirituality embedded within it.”

I also recommend that if you don’t want to pray the Daily Office “old school” with bookmarks and ribbons, you use the Forward Movement Daily Prayer website or iOS app — both of which are built on the backbone of Derek’s St. Bede’s Breviary.

 

Come to a sober and right mind

A friend spoke to me earlier this week about sobriety. He said, “What we really have is a daily reprieve contingent on the maintenance of our spiritual condition.”

I now know that he was quoting from the Big Blue Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, but those words spoke volumes to me about the difference between duty and grace.

The duty of “maintaining our spiritual condition” is at the heart of programs like AA — and I’m beginning to understand how hard and serious that work is in every life.

The gift, the grace of a daily reprieve, is what sobriety represents.

I have often thought of my struggles to maintain a regular discipline of prayer — or any discipline of any kind, for that matter.  Like Paul, “I do not understand my own actions. I do not do what I want, but the very thing I hate” (1 Cor. 7:15).

My friend has me thinking differently today.

What if the daily prayer, the day without drinking, the day without shopping (or whatever else it may be), is not a burdensome duty to fail at yet again — but is actually the gift of rest for a moment?

The work is hard enough without making grace and rest a duty, too.

“Come unto me, all who travail and are heavy laden, and I will refresh you,” says our Lord (Matt. 11:28).

Come to a sober and right mind as you maintain your spiritual condition.

Come to a daily reprieve.