Tag Archives: Morning Prayer

Daily Office Basics – Daily Prayer Origins

I’m delighted to announce that my series of posts called Daily Office Basics is now available in video form!

This first video introduces you to the origins of daily prayer in the Christian church, tracing how daily prayer has changed over time and how we came to have the form of Morning and Evening Prayer that we use in the Episcopal Church today.

Over the next four days, videos will cover finding your place in the Book of Common Prayer and the Bible and then will look at the three parts of the Daily Office — Psalms, Lessons and Canticles, and Prayers — in turn.

I am particularly grateful to Grace Abounds, the online ministry of Grace Episcopal Church in Sheboygan, for filming and producing these videos. The Ven. MIchele Whitford is content manager, and Zachary and Nicholas Whitford filmed and edited the videos.

The series will reside at dailyofficebasics.graceabounds.online — in addition to the videos, that landing page includes some resources for you to download and use as you prepare to pray the Daily Office.

Thanks also to Andy Barnett and the Theodicy Jazz Collective for permission to use music from their album Vespers. You can listen and buy online from their website.

Five ways to become a data-driven pray-er

The company I work for supports leaders in healthcare and higher education with research, consulting, performance technologies, and talent development.

Staff of our member organizations appreciate not only our detailed research studies but also tools like our one-page infographics, which boil down key insights into memorable suggestions.

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This particular infographic, it seems to me, bears not just business acumen but spiritual wisdom.

Why not try using these five principles to better incorporate data into your daily prayer life?

Be data-literate

Read the Bible. Read the Bible. Read the Bible.

If you want to be a follower of the God who is made known through the Bible — the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament — you’ve simply got to be familiar with the source texts.

Nothing substitutes for regular Bible reading, whatever plan you may follow.

My personal favorite comes from Edward P. Blair’s Illustrated Bible Handbook (Abingdon 1985), long out of print but still available on Amazon.

But not all plans are equal, and the Church has long practiced reading the Bible — putting data, that is — in context.

Consider praying the Daily Office, the Church’s preferred method for regular Bible reading in the context of prayer.

Morning and evening, if you follow the Daily Office lectionary in the Book of Common Prayer, over the course of two years you will read the bulk of the Old Testament once, the New Testament twice, and the Psalms about every seven weeks.

Soaking in the Scriptures will over time make you very familiar with its stories and songs, its letters and lamentations, its biographies and prophecies.

Be curious

As you read the Bible and pray the Offices, give yourself permission to wonder about the strange language, the startling metaphors, the upside-down picture they paint of the Kingdom of God.

Just when the religious leaders think they’ve got everything figured out, a judge or a king or a prophet or the Messiah himself comes along and overturns their world.

The term “lectio divina” refers to an ancient monastic practice of letting Scripture catch your attention, then pausing to ruminate over a passage or even a single word.

To ruminate is to “chew the cud,” so to speak — to get every bit of juice and other nutrients out of what you’re eating.

Follow the data trail wherever it leads, and keep being curious about what else might be revealed to you.

Be action-oriented

One common method of Bible study for small groups is the so-called “African method,” which builds on lectio divina and invites you to consider what you will do based on the passage you have just read.

It’s a three-part method.

First, like in lectio divina, read a passage of Scripture and note a word or phrase that catches your attention.

Second, as you re-read the passage (in a small group you would have a different person read it the second time), listen again for the word that Scripture is speaking to you. Often it will be the same as you heard the first time, but sometimes a new phrase comes to the fore.

Third, resolve to take a specific action this week in response to what you have heard.

The higher education project I work on at my company has the inspiring tagline “analytics with a bias to action.”

Similarly, becoming a data-driven pray-er means looking for inspiration by asking “what must I do in response to God?”

Be communicative

In his sermon on the Last Sunday after Epiphany, Fr. Ralph Osborne — the rector of the parish I serve — invited us during the season of Lent to speak to others about our relationship with God.

Share with someone else the insights you’ve gained as you read the Scriptures more deliberately. Share with them the actions you’ve resolved to take based on your reading.

Ask them how their reading of Scripture strengthens their relationship with God. Ask them how they feel led to act in response to Scripture.

Speaking to others about what you’re reading and how it informs your prayer will also help keep you accountable to act as you have resolved to do.

Be skeptical

Finally, the infographic above suggests that being data-driven involves asking the right questions of the data you’ve collected:

Have I drawn the right conclusions?

Am I looking at these results correctly?

Are these good goals and benchmarks?

Whether you’re in the office, or at school, or in church, or at home, it’s good to ask questions in order to be sure you’re on the right track.

In spiritual terms, this is called “being humble.”

People have been writing and editing and proclaiming and teaching and arguing about and meditating on the words of the Bible for more than three thousand years now.

Being a data-driven pray-er means recognizing that your own interpretation is by no means the only one out there. Millions of Jewish and Christian believers have written millions of words about the Scriptures and the God who is revealed in them. Chances are, you’re not the first person to ask the question that’s on your mind.

Likewise, just as God will reveal himself to you as you read the Scriptures, so has God given insights and encouragement to other people. It could be that what they have learned will be important for you to know, too.

There are a lot of data points to consider, so keep asking questions in order to see how your conclusions line up with the voice of the tradition and the other data-driven prayers around you.

12 Steps of Christmas | Christmas Day

Step One – “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol – that our lives had become unmanageable.”

Today’s service of Morning Prayer for Christmas Day can be found here.

Humility

“Who cares to admit complete defeat? Practically no one, of course.”

So begins the explanation of Step One of Alcoholics Anonymous in the book Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions (21).

In my own case, the fall was both abrupt and literal — from a successful performance at a client event in the morning to a bruising, drunken fall in front of clients and colleagues on the marble floor of the hotel lobby that evening.

The next day I flew home knowing I would be fired, then waited, head in my hands, to tell my wife the news.

I had, through my drinking, lost a job I loved and any self-respect and self-confidence I had clung to in the face of growing concerns about my alcohol use.

“Once this stark fact is accepted,” says Step One, “our bankruptcy as going human concerns is complete” (21).

Imitating God in his lowliness

According to the Christian tradition, humanity generally was pretty much bankrupt and definitely in need of God when God decided to send his Son to live as one of us. That’s the background to the Christmas feast that we celebrate today.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German pastor and theologian, answers his own question: “Who among us will celebrate Christmas correctly?”

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Humility, to Bonhoeffer, means “laying down all power, all honor, all reputation, all vanity, all arrogance, all individualism beside the manger.” It means imitating God by remaining lowly.

This resonates with the way early Christians like Paul described Jesus:

who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited, 
   but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form, 
    he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:6-8)

“The glory of God precisely in his lowliness” is what we see in the manger at Christmas.

At Christmas God laid down all power, all honor, all reputation and became a human being, vulnerable just like us. Who are we to be anything but vulnerable like him?

Following Jesus in the way of the cross

This morning we have in Morning Prayer one of the juxtapositions that make the Daily Office such a rich source for reflection.

It is Christmas Day, and so in the first of the collects we speak of our gladness and joy and confidence in God.

Because it is also Friday, however, we immediately pray “that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other than the way of life and peace.”

Collect of the Day

O God, you make us glad by the yearly festival of the birth of your only Son Jesus Christ: Grant that we, who joyfully receive him as our Redeemer, may with sure confidence behold him when he comes to be our Judge; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

A Collect for Fridays

Almighty God, whose most dear Son went not up to joy but first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified: Mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other than the way of life and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Humility is not a one-time admission that we get over and done with. Rather, it is an acceptance of our proper place in relationship to God and to other people, who may also be powerless, whose lives may also be unmanageable.

We do not remain bankrupt, however. The explanation of Step One continues: “Our admissions of personal powerlessness finally turn out to be the firm bedrock upon which happy and purposeful lives may be built” (21).

While we do begin to build purposeful lives again, we must also recognize that our daily experience will continue to involve suffering and frustration.

But that is the pattern of falling and rising that Jesus laid down throughout his whole life, from the most humble beginnings as a baby born in poverty, to his preaching and teaching, and to his trial and execution for a crime he did not commit. As Christians we are called to follow him in that pattern of life, that way of the cross.

Like practicing the Christian faith,

Practicing A.A.’s remaining eleven Steps means the adoption of attitudes and actions that almost no alcoholic who is still drinking can imagine taking. Who wishes to be rigorously honest and tolerant? Who wants to confess his faults to another and make restitution for harm done? Who cares anything about a Higher Power, let alone meditation and prayer? Who wants to sacrifice time and energy in trying to carry A.A.’s message to the next sufferer? No, the average alcoholic, self-centered in the extreme, doesn’t care for this prospect—unless he has to do these things in order to stay alive himself. (24)

God, mercifully grant that we, imitating your lowliness and following Jesus in the way of the cross, may find these 12 Steps none other than the way of life and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

12 Steps of Christmas | Introduction

Before we begin with Step One and Morning Prayer on Christmas Day, here’s a little background information about the Daily Office, the 12 Steps, and my plan for this series that you may find helpful.

About the Daily Office

From the beginning, Christians, like their Jewish forebears, have prayed at set times of the day. (See Acts 3:1, for example.)

Over the centuries, and especially with the rise of monastic communities, Christians gathered to pray as often as seven times a day (emulating Psalm 119:164).

That sevenfold monastic pattern was simplified during the Reformation, and in the Church of England became two “offices” of Morning and Evening Prayer.

The Roman Catholic Church may refer to these prayers as the Liturgy of the Hours, the Orthodox Churches may refer to them as divine services or divine offices, and the Episcopal Church (to which I belong) refers to them as the Daily Office.

Whatever differences there may be — in number of services, times of the day, selections from Scripture to be read at certain times — there is a basic pattern to the Daily Office that’s pretty common.

The Psalter – Reading from the Psalms has for centuries been the foundation of daily prayer.

In the Episcopal Church, the 150 psalms are read at Morning and Evening Prayer on a seven-week cycle.

The Lessons – Readings from the Hebrew Bible (or the Old Testament) and from the New Testament are next. In some churches, those readings are relatively short (maybe just a verse or two) and may be called “chapters.”

In the Episcopal Church, we have inherited a tradition of reading a lot of Scripture in the Daily Office. Over the course of two years, we read most of the Old Testament once and the whole New Testament twice.

The schedule of what Psalms and Scripture lessons are to be read on a particular day is called the “lectionary.”

The Prayers – Beginning with the Lord’s Prayer, we pray for our own needs and those of others and we give thanks to God for the blessings we enjoy.

In the Episcopal Church, there are special prayers called “collects” that set themes for every Sunday of the year, for days of the week, and for special occasions. At each office, we commonly read two or three of these collects.

About the 12 Steps

The 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, according to the history timeline on the AA website, date to 1938 and to the early experience of the first members.

They are “a group of principles, spiritual in their nature, which, if practiced as a way of life, can expel the obsession to drink and enable the sufferer to become happily and usefully whole.”

The 12 Steps were codified from the “Big Book” titled Alcoholics Anonymous, which also includes stories sharing members’ experience, strength, and hope.

You can read the 12 Steps in short form or in the longer form of the book Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions.

About this blog

I’ve been praying the Daily Office for about 23 years now, since before my ordination as a deacon in the Episcopal Church, and I’ve been writing and teaching about it for many years.

I’ve only been practicing recovery for a little over two years now, since becoming sober in October 2013.

Three things really stand out for me as I compare the two practices:

The first thing that struck me about AA meetings is the regular reading and re-reading of the Big Book and of the “12 and 12.”

This constant return to the basic texts of AA has a lot in common with the practice of the Daily Office.

Year after year, season after season, week after week, “one day at a time,” the words of the basic texts — Bible or Big Book — soak into your imagination, and you begin a process of incorporating their wisdom into your daily living.

The second thing that I discovered is that both AA and the church talk about similar spiritual practices; we just call them by different names. For example, what AA calls a “daily self-inventory” the church calls “Confession of Sin.”

And third, both practices are done not because you feel like it, but because it’s time to do it.

We pray Morning Prayer each day at 6 am because that’s the time to do it; we go to an AA meeting on Friday evenings because that’s the time to do it. We can enjoy a “daily reprieve contingent on the maintenance of our spiritual condition” (Big Book 85).

The 12 Steps of Christmas

Each day during the 12 Days of Christmas, we will read one of the 12 steps and pray the Daily Office with its psalms and Bible lessons as appointed in the lectionary.

From the resonances between them, perhaps some wisdom will emerge that will help in our “spiritual awakening.”

I look forward to having you join me in the process for the next 12 days, and I invite you to share in the conversation by adding your comments.

Merry Christmas!

Saving health among all nations | Holy Cross Day

The people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned by speaking against the LORD and against you; pray to the LORD to take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. And the LORD said to Moses, “Make a poisonous serpent, and set it on a pole; and everyone who is bitten shall look at it and live.” So Moses made a serpent of bronze, and put it upon a pole; and whenever a serpent bit someone, that person would look at the serpent of bronze and live. (Numbers 21:7-9)

Keep this nation under your care

When Jesus says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life” (John 3:16), it’s easy for us to forget that he isn’t wearing a rainbow wig and holding up a poster in a football stadium.

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Jesus is not addressing American Christians and football fans. He is not suggesting we wear black “John 3:16” eye paint to Lambeau Field.

Instead, Jesus is deep in a private, nighttime conversation with Nicodemus, a “leader of the Jews” who is trying to understand what Jesus is doing and teaching in Jerusalem at the Passover.

Nicodemus recognizes that Jesus is from God, though the “cleansing of the Temple” — knocking over the tables of the moneychangers and driving them and the sacrificial animals out with a whip of cords — probably upset Nicodemus’ sense of order and respect.

In their quiet, late night conversation, he struggles with Jesus’ words about seeing and entering the kingdom of God — he is confused by the idea of being “born again” and “born from above” and “born of water and the Spirit.”

Jesus asks, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and you do not understand these things?”

Then he continues to teach Nicodemus about the kingdom of God and about salvation.

Let your way be known upon earth

Jesus builds on what he has just said about who can see and who can enter the kingdom of God.

No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him (John 3:13-17).

He uses a strange image for the kingdom, reminding scholarly Nicodemus of a passage from the Book of Numbers about a mysterious cure. The people of Israel in the wilderness were sick, dying from venomous snake bites, but they were cured when they looked at a bronze serpent held up on a pole.

It would have been a particularly odd image, since the bronze serpent had later been destroyed by King Hezekiah (reigned 715-687 BC) during his reforms of the nation and its worship (2 Kings 18:4).

According to the Wikipedia article on him,

Hezekiah purified and repaired the Temple, purged its idols, and reformed the priesthood. In an effort to abolish what he considered idolatry from his kingdom, he destroyed the high places (or bamot) and “bronze serpent” (or “Nehushtan“), recorded as being made by Moses, which became an objects of idolatrous worship. In place of this, he centralized the worship of God at the Jerusalem Temple.

Several hundred years later, having just upset the business of the Jerusalem Temple, Jesus tells Nicodemus that the kingdom of heaven is like the bronze serpent people used to look to instead of going to the Temple as their leaders said they should.

Your saving health among all nations

In John’s Gospel, Jesus does signs — like the miracle at Cana and the cleansing of the Temple — and teaches about the kingdom of God. “We speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen,” he says.

When he refers to the bronze serpent, he makes a point to describe it being lifted up, just as the Son of Man will be lifted up.

Jesus is describing another sign — the ultimate sign — that will testify to his identity and open the kingdom of God to those who believe.

Like the bronze serpent brought healing (salvation) to those poisoned by snakebites, the sign of the Cross will bring eternal life and saving health to all who suffer.

No longer is the healing work of God limited to the people of Israel, no longer is salvation contained in the Temple at Jerusalem, but rather saving health is available to all who look on the Son of Man lifted up.

Collect of the Day

Almighty God, whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ was lifted high upon the cross that he might draw the whole world to himself: Mercifully grant that we, who glory in the mystery of our redemption, may have grace to take up our cross and follow him; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

These trees are prayers

In this morning’s email, Richard Rohr shares a poem by Rabindranath Tagore:

Silence my soul, these trees are prayers.
I asked the tree, “Tell me about God”;
then it blossomed.

Rohr continues: “Now look around you, wherever you are, and find something of beauty. Sit in spacious silence, observing without words or judgment. Let this beauty teach you the mystery of Incarnation, of God’s indwelling presence in all creation.”

St. Mary the Virgin

Today is one of the feasts on the church calendar centering on the “mystery of Incarnation,” on God becoming human and sharing our lives in the person of Jesus.

His mother, Mary, plays a central role in this mystery. Her “yes” to God makes room for all sorts of blossoming.
2015-08-15 08.17.13Like Hannah, who sings that “the barren has borne seven” and the needy are raised up from the ash heap (1 Samuel 2:5-8), Mary sings of God lifting up the lowly and filling the hungry with good things (Luke 1:52-53).

Something new is bearing fruit in the world just as it is in her womb.

And in Jesus’ first sign, the miracle at the wedding in Cana, it’s Mary who puts the fruit of her womb on the spot and urges him to provide the fruit of the vine, overflowing amounts of wine for the feast, good wine that gladdens the heart.

Blossoming in place

Like many who pray the Daily Office, I have a favorite place to pray, a place that gladdens my heart.

From my chair on our porch I look out on our backyard, a Japanese garden with a screen of trees in the ravine behind it.

2015-08-15 06.37.59Looking at the trees in my garden, I “ponder these things in my heart” like Mary.

What trees bear witness to your prayers?

What place helps your heart to blossom? How does the place where you pray help bring Jesus to life again in you?

A Child’s Guide to Morning Prayer

Follow the link to discover A Child’s Guide to Morning Prayer (1954) from the Society for the Propagation of Christian Knowledge, or SPCK, gently illustrated by Margaret Chester.

Essentially you will find the same pattern in the Daily Office of the Episcopal Church today, though there are a few more options for canticles, and a bit more variety in the Collects. On this site, you will find several Resources to help you navigate the Offices more easily.

Thanks to Fr. Tony Clavier of the Episcopal Diocese of Springfield, for bringing this charming book to my attention.

Enjoy! And better yet, share it with a child you know!