Category Archives: Prayer

My first sermon – the actual text

Good Morning. As you can imagine I am a bit nervous, standing in front of you like this for the first time. And I am even more nervous because I will be unconventional, radical even right now: I will be sharing my thoughts on how I read today’s gospel with you and standing up there behind the lectern would imply that I know more than you and am trying to teach you, which is not what I am doing. However, if I am standing down here, Andrew and Richard are at my back. And apart from that making me even more nervous, I also don’t want to develop a crick in my neck trying to look at them once in a while! So, here is the radical part: Andrew and Richard, would you please come and sit down here with us?

Coincidentally, being unconventional and even radical is a big part of what I read in today’s gospel. Jesus tells us a story of a shepherd and his sheep. He calls them, they come, and they certainly don’t listen to the thief climbing over the wall, they only listen to their shepherd. That sounds nice, doesn’t it? All is good, the sheep are safe and everyone lived happily ever after. Right? I don’t see this in the world as it is today. Not at all. It is more like the opposite of what I see!

There has to be more to this story. So let’s have a closer look. One really important image in this story is humanity as a herd of sheep. This image is used again and again in the bible both in the OT and NT. We are quite used to it by now and most of the time we take a look at what the shepherd does. Today I would like to take a look at the sheep in the story. Sheep are rather simple minded, they follow each other, panic at the slightest provocation and all of these mean they sometimes run over the edge of a cliff. We, the humans, can be quite similar to this: We focus on the easy-to-understand things in life, follow each other – listening to the same music, wearing the same clothes and so on – and sometimes this actually leads to our own destruction.

Being German I maybe have a special relationship with this behaviour. My grandfathers were volunteers for the army in 1939. They were excited to defend their country and restore its honour which they felt had been destroyed at the end of WW1 and the following years. They had seen the economic successes of Hitler and the 3rd Reich and were looking forward to a bright future for Germany and for themselves. But essentially they were good people. And so I grew up with one grandfather telling us children over and over again how stupid he had been and that he regretted nothing more than signing up for war. The other never spoke to me about his time as a soldier nor, as far as I know, to anyone else. I can only imagine that it was too painful for him. Only after he died, did we find some letters he wrote to his sister during his time at the front and in prison just after the war. The letters started off very happily, war was all sunshine and fun. But bit by bit the tone changed and though he couldn’t very well tell his sister explicitly, it is obvious that he lost his faith in the war and realised that it had been a terrible idea.

My grandfathers only realised what their mistake when it was already too late. They were caught in a flood that was just pulling them along and they could not find a way out. Of course theirs is a rather extreme example, but aren’t we all sometimes caught up in something we know is wrong? A lie leads to more lies until we have woven a tight net we can’t seem to escape, gossip divides us from each other and building a bridge across the divide becomes impossible, we do something even though we know it’s wrong. We literally cannot help ourselves.

So now, instead of it being happily ever after, everything is all doom and gloom? We always follow the herd and it leads us away from the shepherd towards the thief?

No. If there was no hope, there would have been no Jesus! The point I see in today’s Gospel is this: Jesus calls for us. Then, when the watchman opens the gate and the sheep hear the voice of the shepherd, they follow him.

I’d like to talk a little bit about this calling from Jesus. When I was writing this sermon I was not sure I could do it. This was not because I don’t have the ability to speak in public or because I didn’t think my English was good enough but that Jesus calls me the same as all of you. I don’t know more than anyone else!

I have a confession to make. When I asked Andrew and Richard to come and sit down here I didn’t really do it because of my neck. I asked them because Jesus calls them the same as everyone, there is no one called more or called less, and it doesn’t matter whether you are a priest, postulant, come to church regularly or never at all – Jesus is calling you!

You might not realise you are hearing Jesus’ call. Rarely do we experience this call consciously – it only happened twice in my life, both of which were the most awesome experience and really changed me. The clarity and understanding of the beauty of God’s love and forgiveness were truly amazing.

Most of the time though, we don’t get that but we still can hear the call. God is talking to us by other means and they can be anything: other people, poetry, songs, hymns, really anything. For example, when we had the vision day, the young people decided to start a home group. There was no bright light shining down from heaven but I know it was still God calling us to do it. And you being here today is also answering God’s call, no matter what other reasons you might have. My family is here to support me, yo0u might come every week or for any other reason but today Jesus called all of us together to experience fellowship with each other, praise God and to listen for his call.

Often we cannot hear Jesus calling us. We are too caught up in our lives, we are distracted by our own lives. My grandfathers were full of pride for their country, anger at the other countries and seduced by their desire for the acceptance by others.

I wish there was a recipe to follow that works for everyone but there really isn’t. There are as many ways to open up to God’s calling as your imagination permits. They do all have one thing in common: We need to pay attention! We need to make sure that we are NOT too distracted to hear it blasting in our ears.

Because we can be sure of one thing, no matter whether we have experienced it or not:

Jesus calls out to every single one of us because he knows that, as sinful as we are, as many mistakes as we make, we are worth it and we CAN get it right! Jesus believes in you!

He believes in you so much, that he died for you on the cross and defeated death. Jesus loves you and he believes in you and he is calling for YOU!

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Worship with my home group

When I first heard about the concept of a home group I could only snort. Clearly these were crazy people who had nothing better to do with ther life than get together and feel important because they were being good christians. Well, I was wrong. Very, very, very wrong. Idiotic even.

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I am called… to lead worship

As a priest I will be leading the communal worship of my community most of the time. It is a double calling to be worshipper and leader of worship in order to transform all. Not only would I lead a service though, I would be responsible for setting the tone of the worship of the community for which I need to be a liturgist at the technical level as well pay attention to the life of the world in my community so that the worship can express the intensity of God’s interaction with the world.  Actually, I am a little overwhelmed by this. I don’t know very much about liturgy at all. I guess I will learn this at college…

I would tend to the worship of others as well as my own. In leading worship, my prayers will be an important source of information for others. I will have to walk the thin line of providing both the comfort of the familiar and the challenge of being out of one’s liturgical comfort zone which might well lead me out of my own comfort zone. It would be my responsibility to understand and apply the theology behind the liturgy used and to enable the understanding of others through it.This will be especially difficult since many people will just be sitting there, letting the words wash over tzhem without really listening to what is being said. As long as my expectations aren’t too high I should be fine!

Worship is a gift from God and I am called to share this gift with a specific community in a specific place at a specific point in time. This means that in order to make the community’s worship relevant, I will need to pay attention to the community I will serve, to the culture, newsworthy events and personal happenings. In my worship with this community I will have the chance to express the intensity of God’s interaction with the world. This will require me actually relating to my congregation. Oh bother! Me, the one with the odd music tastes, reading books that nobody else likes and being addicted to American TV Dramas! I will have to step things up a little… or possibly use my excentricities to good effect!

I have had some experience in leading worship, in a home group setting, reading in church, writing intercessions and praying with my Sunday school children. I found it both exhilarating and difficult. Leading worship means that there is a chance that I am the only one truly taking part in the worship. This can be both emotionally and spiritually exhausting. Isn’t there an easier way to meet people than sitting through a service being bored for more than an hour each Sunday? Porbably I am being very harsh. On the other hand, when there were others truly worshiping alongside me, leading them in prayer is meaningful and important. I have always felt that praying with others brings an additional level of immediacy to prayer and while I wouldn’t miss my personal praying time alone, prayer with others is also very important to me. Leading others in prayer regularly and having the chance to be a vessel of inspiration through God’s word is something I am very much looking forward to. And the children are the best!

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Prayer and I – a short history of growth

Prayer is the ground on which my relationship with God stands. As I said before, my praying has evolved slowly, and the more I pray, the more I want to and the more I need to. Of course this has not happened over night but over years.

In 2010 I started praying intermittently, feeling slightly foolish when I was praying. I had never truly prayed by myself before and it was a very new experience. It felt like I was saying these (often not very meaningful words) into thin air and there they just vanished. I had a few good experiences, too, when God’s presence was very tangible and his comfort and support manifest in the words I was reading. And so I realised, that it helped me be at peace to talk to God and I prayed more regularly. Eventually I designed my own daily prayer with a psalm being read in the morning and two readings from OT and NT in the evening. The Daily Office provided by the CoE was too stuffy and structured – and also too long!  – for me at the time.

In 2013 I also started a prayer diary, after our chaplain suggested it in one of his sermons (see, some people really do listen!). Writing down my prayers helps me to focus and think about what is important for me at the time. It helps to make my prayer seem more real and shows me when God answers my prayers. Also, it gives me a way to trace how oftyen and how regular I pray. If I miss a day or two, I ask myself why and try to not let that same reason divide me from God again.

Around November 2013 I discovered “Time to Pray” on Amazon and I feel using it gives me the structure and routine I need while leaving me with the free space to make the prayer a time I can open up to God and his word. It is based on the Daily Office but I use it creatively, with my own Bible readings and reflections. Sometimes I ignore it and just talk to God. mostly though, it is very helpful to have a framework on which to base my prayers. Praying daily has helped deepen my relationship with God and reach a new level of commitment. At the beginning prayer was very much a chore I had put on myself, now it is something that I look forward to.

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How do you pray?

How do you pray, I get asked – by friends and also (more scary) as part of my application form by the DDO. I can of course describe the structure of the prayers I say in the morning and evening (basically an adapted version of the daily office). But does this really answer the question?

Actually that’s exactly what I wrote on the application form. But to my freind I said something very different. I pray, I said, using a structured prayer every morning and evening. This I do every day. Sometimes, I feel God there with me and sometimes I don’t. I use the structure to guide me in what I want to say. So there is me saying that I am sorry, thanking and praising God for the day and then, of course all the pleas and requests. I use beautiful language that has been passed down for centuries and even millenia. I use modern language that really hits the meaning I want to convey. I use my own words to express my feelings.

But this is just a little part of my praying. because throughout the day I will also say little prayers of thanks and little requests as they come up. So when an ambulance goes by, I ask God to be with those they are helping. When I receive good news, I thank God. At mealtimes I say grace (silently if I am with others who don’t).

It is the combination of both, I told my friend, that really makes the difference in my relationship with God. Prayer is something that becomes more meaningful the more you do it. As your relationship with God grows, so does your need to communicate with him. And now, prayer is something I just do, without even thinking about it. And my life is so much richer because of it.

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I am called… to worship him

Worshipping God is the most important part of a priests calling, being the inspiration for and informing all of his or her other activities. Worshipping God is taking a step back from the preoccupation with ourselves. It is deciding again and again to give God my soul, my life, my all. Through praying we give and receive love from the one source of all things and we proclaim this love to the world. Worshipping god and regular prayer is immensely satisfying. They can give me a feeling of accomplishment, of having helped when no other help was possible. Prayer gives me a connection, to God but also to others. As a priest I will continue with worshiping God regularly and it will help me to continue giving my life to him. Much of my life I did not know to pray or how and the journey of learning how to talk to God was long, full of stumbling blocks but also with great accomplishments and gratification. Prayer has become something I do like eating and drinking and I cannot imagine doing without. Sometimes I find it difficult to get started but for this reason, I think, there is the Daily Office. in this set text of prayers I can get started even when I don’t know how and it gives me a framework with which to work when I am uninspired. At the same time it is the moments during the day when I give God a quick thank you or please that can be the most meaningful.

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The Nature of Calling

Molnár József: Ábrahám kiköltözése

Molnár József: Abraham (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A few days ago I wrote about how I had had two upheavals in my faith and I told you about one of them. The reason, that I didn’t talk about the second one is, that I am not quite sure myself yet. How do you know that God is calling you? There are many, many stories about God calling people in both the Old Testament and the New Testament and every calling seems to be quite unique ad at the same time they all seem to be similar in some way. It confuses me. I thought I knew what my calling was going to be and I was ready for it and happy but it is becoming clearer and clearer to me that it is not happening and I am finding myself at a loss. What am I doing? Did I completely miss the point? How can I get back on track, and was it the right track? If not, how do I find the right one?

Reading about Abraham being called by God to just up and leave with only his faith in God as reassurance that things would work out, I feel similarly. In a kind of limbo, not seeing where I am going and even struggling with where I am coming from. I know I am just supposed to have faith and happily follow along but, honestly, I hat this. It is horrible not to know. I am sure as much as Abraham believed in God, he also had doubts and wanted to know where he was going to go. All he had was this vague promise, that God will show him the land. Well, I have a not-so-vague promise that God is always with me and guides me and will rescue me at the end of time but right now that doesn’t seem very helpful. Don’t get me wrong, I draw a lot of energy from my faith and God and the community in my church and all of this is amazingly helpful in itself. Yet, sometimes, rather often, I think to myself: But what am I doing? And I wish God would answer that question. And I know that eventually he will. (But can’t it be sooner, rather than later, please?)

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Open Church

Eglwys Gadeiriol S. Philip, Birmingham

St. Philip’s Cathedral, Birmingham (Photo credit: Dogfael)

Every Saturday my church opens its doors to anyone who wants to come in. Volunteers staff it for two hours, and people come in to pray, look around, get a tour or just talk to the volunteers about church stuff (like weddings, baptisms, Christianity) or just chat. It’s great, I’ve volunteered myself a few times and you get to meet and chat to some very nice people. I don’t like that it is only open on a Saturday, though, Shouldn’t a church be always open to anyone, so that anyone ca come in to pray ad find a quiet space to just be for a while? I know, I know, you need somebody there to make sure nobody steals anything or vandalizes the place, for insurance reasons etc. etc. I am not talking about the practical side (which I understand makes it impossible for every church) but just generally, can we agree on it? Even the cathedral in the town centre is only open until 5 o’clock and then closes until the next morning. I get that it is expensive to keep a church ope but I also think that it is sad that we can’t make it possible in at least one church per city. A church should be a refuge for anyone who needs it whenever they need it, be it in the middle of the night or at noon on a Wednesday.

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Doctor Who morals

The Mark 2 fibreglass (Tom Yardley-Jones) Tard...

I was watching the TV series Damages the other day and something suddenly struck me. One of the baddies was obviously feeling guilty and decided to help one of the people he had wronged. That made me remember one of my favourite quotes from Doctor Who. He is talking to another baddie:

You let one of them go but that’s nothing new. Every now and then a little victim’s spared because she smiled, ’cause he’s got freckles. ‘Cause they begged. And that’s how you live with yourself. That’s how you slaughter millions. Because once in awhile—on a whim, if the wind’s in the right direction—you happen to be kind.

And isn’t this true for many, if not most, of us? We do the wrong thing all the time, knowingly do the wrong thing, but every now and then we muster up the strength to do what we believe is right in difficult circumstances – and that is how we live with ourselves. That is how we survive the knowledge that we are not always a good person. We remember the things we did right. We pat ourselves on the shoulder and say: See I am not all bad after all. And, as contradictory as this may sound; I think that is really important. To remember that we sometimes do have that strength. Because God does, too. Yes, he knows all our deeds, good or bad, but through his grace we are forgiven the bad ones. And we please him every time we get it right; every time we go beyond ourselves he jumps up and down with joy – and so should we. Of course we can’t be complacent about it but if we only focus on the bad things and those we got wrong – we’ll simply break. So I say: let’s use this very human feature for a good cause. Let’s use it to do more good deeds and less bad ones. Let’s use it as a carrot so we can forget the stick.

So, today, do something right, do something good, do something you wouldn’t normally do. and then tonight, when you go to sleep, remember it, remember the warm, fuzzy feeling of complete goodness and thank God for experiencing that grace. And then, tomorrow, do it again.

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Serving during a service

English: Traditional German Magnificat (music ...

English: Traditional German Magnificat (music notes, transcription) Русский: Немецкий (протестантский) магнификат (ноты, транскрипция) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This last Sunday, I was reminded of a phenomenon that I had noticed before. When I sing with the choir (every Sunday) or have some other role during the service, I can get really distracted. The anticipation of whatever it is I am doing stops me from concentrating and enjoying the service, but also, even more importantly, it hinders my spiritual experience. I am not sure why this is the case for me, but it has something to do with nervousness and bad concentration in general. For example, after communion we all go back into our choir stall and this is when I usually pray to thank God for his sacrifice and for the opportunity to experience him through the bread and wine. However, depending on what we are singing with the choir, I find it very difficult to do that. This is, of course, amplified by the other choir members to the right and left to me who tend to not pray and rustle about and sometimes whisper to each other. I don’t blame then, though. I would be able to tune them out if it wasn’t for the song we are about to sing and when will we start and should I really be closing my eyes, what if I miss the cue? You get the gist. I wonder if I am the only one who feels like this. Many people are nervous when they have to get up in front of a crowd and read something or say something off their head. I certainly generally loose my breath when doing this because I am so nervous (unless the group is not so big, then I am fine). So should we make sure that the same person doesn’t have to read or pray or speak too many Sundays in a row? And I wonder, what about ministers? Can they ever really feel the same connection with God when they constantly have to concentrate on the service and what comes next? Or is their connection stronger, so it’s fine?

Personally I have been going to our Wednesday night communion services where I am just a normal member of the congregation and it has helped me. I am glad I have found somewhere because singing in the choir gives me a completely different but no less valuable connection to God and Jesus and the Holy Spirit. It is just as valuable to me as quiet prayer time during a service.

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The music says it all

Taize

On Friday I learned an astonishing fact. Apparently, our choir leader (who, by the way, is a really nice person and an amazing musician) refuses to let us sing in Latin (and they’d prefer not to sing any language other than English, really). Coming from a Catholic background, this kind of thinking is utterly foreign to me. Because it is not, that our choir leader doesn’t like singing in a foreign language; it is, that from a Protestant point of view it is apparently important that the congregation understands everything without a problem, even if it is sung by the choir only (like a communion anthem). So, I started thinking about it. Is it a good thing if the congregation knows what’s going on and can follow the service? Certainly! If you’ve ever been to a service, where you did not speak the language (I have been to an English one when I didn’t really speak it yet, a Latin and a Spanish one) you know that you are really lost and that it is really, really hard to find any kind of connection even if you know what’s going on. So, yes, I am very happy, that all of the prayers, blessings and many of the songs/ hymns we sing are in English. (Or, in my home village in Germany, in German). But. But, because I like singing in another language. But, because singing in another language opens the way to new and exciting music and rhythms. But, because it reminds us that we are not just the Church of England but also the Church of Christ which is everywhere and in every country. God is worshipped in many languages. If you want the congregation to know what you are singing; why not tell them? It’s how it works in Taize, for example. And yes, anything the congregation joins in with, you want to make easily understandable and pronouncable (pronunciation is not to be taken lightly!) but what if the choir is singing all by themselves? I honestly don’t think that most people actually listen to the words; they listen to the sound and how it all goes together. So if it was in a different language than usual, hey would notice and then enjoy the music. Singing African songs in their original language is one of the most spiritual experiences I have ever had – and I didn’t really know every word but only had a general sense of what they meant. The text wasn’t that important. The music said it all.

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Thoughtful entertainment

Iona

Iona (Photo credit: wjmarnoch)

Generally, I think, we divide what we do in entertainment (stuff for fun) and thoughtful things and we never quite expect them to happen at the same time. Today I was reminded that it is perfectly possible to make people laugh and not be frivolous at the same time. Also I was encouraged to think. What an evening! I was lucky enough to go to a workshop organised by John Bell, a member  of the Iona Community. Members of the Iona community, which was founded in 1938, live their normal lives but commit to the Rule; which means that they are accountable to the community for their income and time, they pray and read the Bible daily and they are committed to promote justice, peace and the integrity of creation. Also they meet regularly. There are centres on the Iona island ( which is where they get their name from), the island of Mull and in Glasgow where people can visit and join them for worship. You can find out lots more on their website. They also have developed their own style of worship. here is how they describe it:

 It is direct, and to the point, allowing the ancient buildings and beautiful surroundings to speak for themselves. It is relevant and challenging, reflecting the Community’s engaged spirituality and its concern to ‘find new ways to touch the hearts of all’. And it is inclusive and accessible in language and gospel.

Tonight we were talking about psalms and their role and place I worship. I only discovered the psalms as a medium for prayer fairly recently (before that they had always seemed very archaic and irrelevant to my life in the modern world) and after tonight I have become a convert to praying by psalm. We sang many. many songs that were just adapted psalms and they were all beautiful and meaningful. Some were sad, some triumphant, some atoning and others grateful. The whole spectrum of reasons to talk to God was covered with brilliant music and an even better speaker. John Bell really is hilarious, not least thanks to his Scottish accent (which to a German will always sound exotic and cute, probably like an English accent sound to an American). His stories made the psalms come to life and he gave a great many ideas about how to include them in everyday worship. Probably quite a few people feel similarly to how felt not too long ago about them and would resist their introduction. What nearly brought me down to my knees, was when he was talking about how in today’s songs God is always praised but we never bring our fears and sorrows before him anymore. He then gave us an example of what this might look like and I almost started to cry. It just pushed so many of my buttons. And that is when I realised that this is exactly what I had been missing; this is what God is best at: to bring my fears and whatever is wrong in my life to him and tell him about them and then receiving his strength to let me cope with them. We really don’t do that enough anymore. I am resolved to at least make it a part of my daily prayer from now on. I wish I could share this song with you, but, alas, it is not on youtube. However, if you have the chance to see or work with John Bell, do it. You will not be disappointed.

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Book of Common Prayer follow up

Title page of the Prayer book of 1662, printed...

Title page of the Prayer book of 1662, printed by John Baskerville in 1762. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So, today we had the service that followed the original BoCP and while it was very different, it was also really, really nice. The main difference was, as I thought before, that the order of the service was all jumbled up and yes, that was confusing at times. I thought it was rather interesting that all the ten commandments were recited at the beginning of the service and the archaic language was, of course, very beautiful. I liked that it was different and special. Here is what I didn’t like: During most of the service, the minister stood with the back to the congregation. She was, of course, meant to be facing God and this is the very traditional way of saying the mass in the Catholic church as well (today pretty much no-one does it that way anymore, though). For me, it felt weird, unknown and distancing. We discussed this after the service and a retired vicar that I will call Jonathan here (it is not his real name) made the good point that the priest is meant to be a member of the congregation, facing God and that the two times she actually faces the congregation for the absolution and the blessing, the fact, that she is speaking for God then is greatly emphasised. This is true, but I still prefer the other way.

Overall, I think I could get used to it and I certainly liked it for the celebration it was of tradition and the history of the Church of England and the BoCP. I also like that we don’t usually use archaic language more, though. It makes the connection to God we feel during worship less extraordinary and more as a part of our normal life and I think that is as it should be. After all, the writers of the BoCP decided to hold the services in English rather than Latin so everyone could relate to the service and understand what is being said.

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Holy Pop

10 years ago I went to the World Youth Day of the Catholic Church in Toronto with my best friend and a group of people we didn’t know very well (she got married to one of them this year). While there we were introduced to English modern worship music for the first time. We hated it. we came up with a new descriptor for it: Holy Pop. One of the songs that we loved to hate was this:

It’s funny how things change. because now I am actually quite fond of this type of music (my friends are not going to be able to stop laughing at me when they read this). I have learned to love it. The repetitiveness that I used to ridicule is actually quite helpful in connecting to others, and the simpleness makes it easy to pick up. Still, there are some people who listen to this music recreationally and that is definitely not for me. For me to really enjoy this music there would have to be a little bit more substance to the texts although, there are some songs that do have that and I wish there were more. Because Holy Pop can be really good music. Listen to this:

or this:

It’s amazing! I can listen to this all day (when I don’t happen to feel like something more edgy, but then, there is a type of music for every mood). I am very grateful to have had the chance to get know Holy Pop (yes I still call it that) better and therefore to learn to love it’s finer points.

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Book of Common Prayer

Title page of Book of Common Prayer, Scotland 1637

Title page of Book of Common Prayer, Scotland 1637 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today, in choir, we were preparing for Sunday’s anniversary service of the Book of Common Prayer. The Book of Common Prayer, of course, is the first prayer book of its kind with the complete liturgy of the different services. It was first published in 1549 but quickly revised in 1552 (which is what we are celebrating on Sunday). I was very surprised to learn that the order of the service has actually been changed around a lot and parts of the service that I am used to being at the beginning (like the Gloria for example) end up at the end and vice versa. Apart from the arrangement we were practicing being ridiculously difficult, the words being different (i.e. more archaic like you’d expect) and no-one knowing whether we were singing the beginning or the vicar (as indicated in the sheet music but who knows whether our vicar wants to sing solo, he usually doesn’t) the music was very, very pretty and I really liked singing some of the prayers that we usually just say aloud. I wish we’d have had the chance to practice the Creed and the Lord’s Prayer as well but there really wasn’t enough time. I really like singing prayers, it makes me feel closer to God in some way. Music is a really large part of how I connect to God and while I like the hymns and anthems we sing in church, I wish there was a little more singing at times. I miss the whole congregation just singing a prayer that everyone knows with no accompaniment or music in front of them. I really fosters the communal spirit I think.

Back to the BoCP though, I am not sure how I feel about Sunday’s service. I have said earlier on this blog that I like the ritualistic sameness of a service and on Sunday that is going to be completely changed around. Obviously doing this for one service celebrating a centuries-old tradition that feels more adventurous than anything else, but I am glad that normally we do it the “normal” way. By that I mean the way I am used to it because it is mostly (as in 90% are the exact same words) as in the Catholic service I grew up with. It’s funny how how we first learn to realte to God stays with us for a long time and, for me at least, is difficult to change. I spent some time in Canada and while there went to quite a few modern protestant services and it never felt quite right. Luckily there is something for everyone out there and we don’t have to force ourselves and make the relationship with God more difficult. I am looking forward to Sunday because it should be interesting and of course the BoCP should be celebrated. Also, I get to sin, praise and worship and what could be more rewarding?

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Filed under CoE, Community, History, Music

Evening Prayer and rain

Gully flooding update #2

I am a little disgruntled. When I left the house about an hour ago to walk to church for the evening prayer, the weather looked just fine with light cloud cover and now and then some blue sky peaking through. I decided to not take a coat since it is really too warm for one anyway. The evening prayer was really nice, like always. When I went to our evening prayer for the first time i was surprised how much it is like the Vesper of the Catholic Church. I don’t know about you, but for me going to a service and knowing what comes next is very calming and helps me to let go and just be. I don’t have to be on the lookout what is happening next because I already know. Does that make sense? What I like about evening prayer, also, is that the whole service is meditational (my browser tells me this is not a word and suggest denotational as an alternative but I’m sure you understand what I mean), because we read psalms and canticles, scripture and pray together, some of it in silence. It’s a great way to connect to God in a more private way than in a Sunday family service. That is also something I really like about Taize services. But I digress. When the evening prayer had finished and we stepped outside it was raining like crazy and I got soaked when walking home. I hate getting wet. My hair had been blow-dried and everything and now it is just limply hanging around my face looking like, well not like much. I guess it was an unwelcome reminder that vanity is not something to take on as a facet of my personality but really, if I may say so myself, I am not all that vain. I just like to have the effort show when I make it. Well, I was reminded and say thank you in a grudging, teenager kind of way. To God we’re probably all teenagers anyways, breaking the rules time and time again, not learning our lessons and talking back to him. Thankfully he is very understanding!

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Filed under body and soul, CoE, Community, Prayer, Taize

A life can never be given back

English: Footprints from Westhaven. Looking ba...

Today I was listening to a lecture on Christian ethics, originally to try out whether I liked the speaker or not. Then I realised he was talking about the death penalty and what the Bible says about it and I couldn’t stop listening. This is something very important to me, not least because a friend of mine was murdered a few years ago. Now, you might think that I would want the killer to die, maybe even, that I should want him to die but actually I don’t. In fact, when I first thought about it (being from Germany where the death penalty is not an option, it didn’t cross my mind until someone asked me) I realised that I felt quite the opposite. This man had taken my friend’s life and I wanted him to realise what he had done (he never showed remorse or apologised to her family or anyone else as far I know) and then live with it. Because wouldn’t that be so much worse than just dying? I feel terrible whenever I do something to hurt anyone else and while I realise that not everyone feels the same, I hope that killing your girlfriend would result in that. I think if the guy was killed because of the society I am a member of I would actually feel guilty (and I agree that that would go a bit far and not be a reasonable reaction at all). There are a lot of reasons for and against the death penalty and I cannot possibly list them all here but if you are interested here is an extensive list of all the arguments. The lecturer, I was listening to, made some arguments for and against it  and finally came to the conclusion that the Bible allows the death penalty if it is applied justly and fairly. This is a big if of course and he also concluded after giving a few examples that the process cannot ever be completely just and fair. While I agree with the latter I don’t agree with the former. His arguments were compelling but mainly based on the Old Testament and I choose to believe that God told us in much more detail about himself in the New Testament. Even as early as Deuteronomy we are told that revenge belongs to God and Paul explains it to us in Romans: Do not take revenge my friend… on the contrary if your enemy is hungry feed him… Do not be overcome by evil but overcome evil with good. Also, using my moral sense it just feels very wrong. Like I said, it would be too easy for the killer and he would never have the chance to repent and try to atone his crime. I believe, and maybe this is a little wide-eyed and bushy-tailed, that everyone can give something to society and that every single person plays a role in the greater scheme of life. Letting somebody live, even if it is just in prison, gives him (or her) the chance to give something back. Even if it is writing a book and becoming rich or just sowing footballs (or whatever it is they do in prisons these days). I am just a normal person who likes to hold a grudge as well as anyone, so don’t think I am some angelic weirdo. In the beginning I was so furious (and so very sad!) and as I found out more details about her Footprints in sand. Marinha Grande, Portugal.death I became angrier and angrier. For a while all those feelings took over my life. When the trial was finally over, after almost a year, I was so glad that his terrible crime was acknowledged by awarding him the maximum sentence possible (15 years, if you are not considered a menace to society in Germany). As I write these lines and remember it all, the tears come back into my eyes.  I am very glad I was asked about my friend’s killer because it helped me to find out, in a moment of amazing grace, that I had started to forgive him.  I realised that I didn’t want him to suffer in prison and that I hope when he leaves, he has used the time in prison to get an education and make something of his life. Enough lives have already been destroyed because of his actions. I don’t think I will ever stop being sad but I am eternally grateful that I have stopped being furious. Sometimes I am still angry but it passes quicker every time.

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Filed under Bible, Ethics, good vs. bad, New Testament, Philosophy, Prayer

Reading the Bible

The Bible being the founding document of Christianity, it is of course immensely important to Christians the world over and the foundation of most of the doctrines the different strains of Christianity have developed (although they would say all of them, I can’t agree because some clearly are not). But how important is it to me personally and how much does my faith benefit from reading it? I am in two minds when it comes to the Bible because unlike many others I don’t see it as the document of Final Truth and I certainly don’t believe that everything in it is pure fact. King James Version of the Bible

Almost a year ago I decided to read the whole Bible which I had never done before and I only finished a few weeks ago. While it opened my eyes to many beautiful and inspiring passages that no doubt are very rewarding spiritually, there are also many passages that made me shake my head in disbelief and even disgust occasionally.

Since then, I have been given a King James Version for my birthday and in the back there is a Bible reading schedule to finish it in just two years including reading the New Testament and Psalms twice. I decided to incorporate these readings in my daily prayers, but now I am not so sure that was a good idea. I am in 1 Samuel right now and Saul has just been thrown from God’s good graces because (and here it is) he would not completely kill everyone and everything of the Amalekites. Because Saul doesn’t commit genocide, or rather complete the genocide (and yes he doesn’t because he wants to keep their cattle) God becomes angry. As you can imagine, reading this kind of ruined my prayer time because it made me angry. I like to use those readings to come up with some rule or moral but this one I could not take anything away from. So now I am wondering whether maybe I should keep to the passages and books that I know I liked, or found useful in some way, and just ignore the rest? But, on the other hand, wouldn’t that be cheating? I think, for the time being I will continue reading it all and try not to get worked up too much but I know there are some triggers I will not be able to withstand. Another thing to pray for, I guess.

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Does God need our praise?

Illumination

God must be pretty awesome. He is so amazing and so far away from our human consciousness that I cannot ever understand him and what he is like. He knows all of us, in fact he knows every atom in the universe and even better; he loves every single one of them. He loves me, am member of humanity, one species among many on Earth, enough to send me his son because I need guidance. That’s how much he loves me. He gave me free will; I get to choose to do with my short life what I want to do with it, even if it is completely the wrong thing; that’s how much he loves me. He is this amazing being that is so far above us; it is unimaginable and yet, there are people out there who say that if I don’t go and praise God, he will let me burn in hell for eternity. Or, even better if I insult his name; he get’s angry at me. I cannot believe that. How can this amazing God possibly be insulted by a human being? I don’t think he cares – unless of course I am doing it in order to hurt someone else, then he cares very much because we are not supposed to do that, ever. Same with worship, praise or prayer; I don’t think that God needs me to do that, he doesn’t need his ego stroked, he doesn’t have one; he is God! When I pray, when I worship, when I praise I do it because it helps me. It helps me to remember that I am just a humble human being and that there is a much larger being out there who loves me and who loves absolutely everyone around me. It helps me to be a better person and it helps me to connect to God. And I think that is why he told us to do it. When I hear from a friend that they are worried because their sick grandfather hasn’t been to church in a long time, I can only shake my head. Really?

I understand regular prayer, I do it myself at least once but mostly twice a day (plus all the irregular prayers in between but I am talking about scheduled time for praying here). Regular prayer helps me to keep the connection to God active, it helps me to communicate with him; even if I don’t feel like it, I always get something from it. And part of prayer is always praise, but for me that is remembering who I owe it all to, who made the world and who loves me enough to have died for me (that is so amazing, it gets me every time). So, I don’t understand why some people insist that I have to do it for God. Aren’t you taking away something from yourself if you do it not because you want to but because you feel you have to? I would hate that, I think for me it would lead to the resentment of prayer and ultimately of the God who requires me to do it. So I choose to enact my free will and pray when I want to, what I want to and how I want to.

What do you think? Do you pray regularly and if so, why?

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Prayer by St. Francis

English: Two candles in love. The flame is inv...

English: Two candles in love. The flame is inverted heart shape. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A beautiful prayer, written by St. Francis of Assisi, that I pray every morning:

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace; where there is hatred let me sow love, where there is injury let me sow pardon, where there is doubt let me sow faith, where there is despair let me give hope, where there is darkness, let me give light, where there is sadness let me give joy.

Oh divine Master, grant that I may not try to be comforted but to comfort, not try to be understood but to understand, not try to be loved but to love.

Because it is in giving that we are received, it is in forgiving that we are forgiven and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

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Filed under Poetry, Prayer, St. Francis