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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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!
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?
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.