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Review of Common Prayer
If there is anything that the New Monastics gravitate toward in a sympathetic impulse that may be just beyond the reach of their own self-awareness is the ability to tell stories and to find in them the meaningful and hearty grist from the mill of life. I think most folks involved with this ancient and contemporary call are aware of how much "story" is vital in their lives, I just don't know if most of them know how good they are at telling them.
This prayerbook has the feel of a family gathering. This is a "sit on the porch and get ready to talk to and about God and all of the folks He has worked into His story over the millennia.". Don't get me wrong. There is no dumbing down of the spiritual dilemma or of the complexity of understanding the pre-existent nature of the eternal logos hypostatically conjoined. It is just that this is a prayerbook that helps you feel at ease with our spiritual formation in Jesus.
First, it is simple. We start out with a sensational discussion of liturgy and the traditional pieces of worship that so many folks know that they have heard about, but just don't know much about. It let's us in on some of the mystery behind liturgical worship, the church and the saints. There is a brief description of the daily services.
From there we move out into a simple set of prayers designed for evening. The prayers are not huge and cumbersome (trust me - after twenty five years in the Orthodox Church I know cumbersome) but simple and freeing. They are moored to the holiest of traditions throughout church history and prayer writing - they are moored to scriptural prayer.
Sure you will recognize some things from a Presbyterian format or from the Anglican Monastic Breviary, but that is only because, unbeknownst to most folks who don't liturgy hop, most all of the Christian traditions are hitched to the Psalms and canticles from all throughout scripture. These New Monastics do a fine job of taking the powerful canticles and psalms from our past and setting them free into something manageable.
Not long ago, in one of my books, I asked if folks twenty years from now - in contemporary Christianity - would know the creeds or perhaps the names of some of the great church fathers and mothers that helped us to understand Christian kerygma and dogma. When I read this prayerbook, I am given hope that maybe they will.
Morning prayer is written for everyday of the year. You will find canticles, verses and psalms along with readings from the Old Testament and the Gospels. The part that sets this family story apart from other tellings of prayer is that each day there is something that connects us to a long line of faith. There will be a quote from a church father or mother or a story about the life of some Jesus-lover from the last century. It gives us a family context for our faith that includes the prophets and the social workers, the poor and the oppressed, the rabbis and the farm-workers. Everyone is welcomed at this story of prayer. All are called to this porch of God where we sit about and tell the telling of where we have gone with our Father.
That is refreshing.
The cycle of morning prayer is laid out in a month by month sequence beginning with December, the month of our baby Jesus' birth; the Lenten season of Advent. Each month has some dialog concerning one of the twelve marks of the New Monasticism, and some fantastic artwork that is reminiscent of the Catholic Worker woodcut prints. You will also find a collection of discussion boxes throughout the book on any number of topics and ways of enacting a rich and creative connection with God and His beloved ones scattered all around us - even our enemies.
The prayers call out for silence. Their short length allow us to make love to the ancient craft of sitting in stillness, chewing on what the heart has heard, what it thinks it may have heard, and what it has tied it's feeling to in the words the mind has read.
There are occasional prayers in the back. Perhaps for blessing an office or a home. Perhaps for an adoption. Perhaps for the death of someone in the neighborhood. The end of the book is filled with songs and canticles used through out the prayer services - with the accompanying music.
This book exudes a sense of devotion to history and ease of display that can only come from harsh and laborious hours of toiling research and tears before God. You can't put something together that feels this complete and well practiced without having done the research. There is much to be attained in the praying of these hours of sweat - not only the authors' who have pulled it all together, but from the great line of God-lovers this prayerbook reveals. This ain't Dr. Seuss's "One Prayer, Two Prayer, Red Prayer Blue Prayer." This is a contemplative look at where we have been as a people of God, a prophetic look at where we are called to go, and a sensitive telling of how we can get there - TOGETHER.
In a day and age where we could conceivably see a major collapse of what we have known to be mainline denominationalism - or at least a drastic overhaul of the beast - this prayerbook emerges on the wind to offer hope. This prayerbook says: "Come Methodist, Quaker, Baptist, Anglican, non-Denominationalist, non-attending Believer, Catholic, Orthodox, Presbyterian, Lutheran, et. al., come and share together in the great underground flow of words that all of your fathers and mothers have offered up to God in Jesus throughout time. Sit with us on the porch of our believing. Listen and share, because we are all one family. Sure, there were times you did not get along, but sit, these times are not those. We need to rest and sit a spell and talk to our Father - together. We can still do that. Come. Sit. Pray with me. Let us see where we have been and take hope for the road ahead is long, and we have much to do together to bear His easy yoke of holding hands and loving. We have much to do to be made anew into His image and likeness. Come, sit, pray with me."
This type of stuff, this stuff that is coming to the fore of theology today, this stuff is why it is great to be a God-lover today. Stay open and don't miss this chance for Jesus to get us all together, one more time, so we might continue becoming people that include the whole world in a salvation so much bigger than we could ever know or hope for - one that includes all God's children. That we might get together one more time to tell the ancient Tale and to love the ancient Love.
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