Tag Archives: Vespers

God looks on my loveliness with favor

Apparently, Theodicy Jazz Collective played for the Friday morning Eucharist at the Episcopal Church’s General Convention in Salt Lake City.

I followed a link in the Acts 8 Moment’s Resurrection Report to check them out. What extraordinarily lovely music!

As I listened to their album Vespers, I was inspired to start sketching liturgical notes and outlines for “Breathing Under Water: A Jazz Vespers for Recovery.” I’d love to help create and bring a service like that to the Fox Cities, and my head began swirling with the possibilities.

But “The Magnificat” checked my stride (and my pride) and brought tears to my eyes.

My soul magnifies the Lord
my Spirit rejoices in God my Savior
my soul magnifies the Lord,
for God looks on my loveliness with favor.

Can it be true? God looks on my loveliness with favor? I sat stunned and grateful.

My experience of recovery has been an experience of grace, of admitting my own powerlessness and discovering that God pours out blessings on me as I follow “certain steps … which are suggested as a program of recovery” (Big Book 58-9).

I have found the prayers of the Daily Office transformed in the process, and now even more than ever, they serve to build my hope.

Theodicy Jazz Collective have brought me back into a state of grace this morning.

I hope that in their music you will hear that God looks on your loveliness with favor, too.

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The place of God’s dwelling

At the Advisory Board Company, we teach a course called “Leading Amidst Uncertainty.”

In one of my favorite moments we suggest to leaders, as they must respond personally to the anxiety arising from uncertainty, that they regularly pause to breathe.

This timeless wisdom is not copyrighted, and it’s free for anyone at any time.

We go on to suggest making time for reflection in whatever way may work best — go outside for a walk or exercise to clear your head, schedule five minutes of nothing on your calendar to regroup, or eat lunch away from your desk to find clarity.

My teaching brought me to Kalamazoo, Michigan this week, so I took advantage of being just 30 minutes away to stop in for a visit this afternoon at St. Gregory’s Abbey in Three Rivers.

St. Gregory’s is a Benedictine Abbey in the Episcopal Church. I have been a confrater, or associate, of the abbey for at least 20 years but have rarely visited. It must be 10 years since my last visit.

Before vespers I had some time to sit quietly in the sun, to pet one of the Abbey cats, and to have tea with the monks and with another guest, the Rt. Rev. Ed Little, Bishop of Northern Indiana.

The Abbey Church is one of the loveliest I know, and vespers in that quiet place redolent of incense is truly peaceful.

St. Gregory's Abbey Church

Vespers in St. Gregory’s Abbey Church

The chapter appointed for this evening (a short Scripture passage) is also a personal favorite of mine:

See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is (1 John 3:1-2).

I am grateful for a couple of hours today in “the place of God’s dwelling” — or at least one particular place — and for the pause to breathe.

Psalmody and Simony

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Seven times a day do I praise you, *
because of your righteous judgments. 
Great peace have they who love your law; *
for them there is no stumbling block. 
I have hoped for your salvation, O LORD, *
and have fulfilled your commandments. 
I have kept your decrees *
and I have loved them deeply. 
I have kept your commandments and decrees, *
for all my ways are before you. (Psalm 119:164-168)

This verse from Psalm 119 is behind the Benedictine rule of daily prayer in the monasteries — seven times of prayer which since the 6th century or so have been known as Matins, Lauds, Terce, Sext, Nones, Vespers, and Compline.

The Benedictine round of prayer is a workmanlike approach to prayer. Each office is relatively short, all 150 psalms are appointed to be read in the course of every week, and there is only minor variation from day to day, season to season, year to year.

The Daily Office in our Book of Common Prayer definitely springs from that Benedictine tradition. The fruits of the Daily Office are revealed only after long use and steady practice. It takes time for the words of the Psalms and of the rest of Scripture to soak into your mind and heart, time and repetition. I’ve been saying the Daily Office regularly for 20 years now, and I’m only getting started.

Now contrast this with the story appointed for today from the Acts of the Apostles, the story of Simon the magician.

Simon was a magician who did deeds of power in Samaria, but when he saw the disciples and their faith he turned to the Lord and was baptized. Apparently, however, he and the other Samaritans who were baptized did not receive the Holy Spirit, so Peter and John came down to lay hands on them. “Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money, saying, ‘Give me also this power so that anyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.'” (Acts 8:18-19).

It’s from this man Simon that we get the word simony, which means making a profit out of sacred things or buying and selling a position in the Church. The word really comes from the Middle Ages, when the wealthy would buy a bishopric or buy a position as abbot for a family member.

The gift of the Spirit is just that, a gift, and you can’t buy it. And the fruits of the Spirit are revealed over time, too — you can’t just leap to the end state.

I’ll bring it back to the Daily Office with an example.

There are several very marvelous iPhone apps that make saying the Daily Office much easier. My favorite is the app (and website) by Forward Movement called Day by Day. Just open the app or the website, click on Daily Prayer, and the office unfolds before you — no fussing with ribbons or bookmarks, no worrying about whether you’ve picked the right collect. Just click and pray.

Here’s the thing, though. The app makes it easy, but you still have to actually pray.

You still have to put in the time in order to give the Word a chance to soak in. So be like Simon — eager for the gift of the Spirit — but don’t be like Simon in his haste to skip over the work.