Friday, December 31, 2010

The Spirit and the Heart

Unless there be in our hearts a secret conviction by the Spirit of God, the gospel in itself is a dead letter, and worketh not in us the light and righteousness of God…for…the Scriptures…are written within and without…and unless there be a light shining within our hearts, unfolding the leaves and interpreting the mysterious sense of the Spirit, convincing our consciences and preaching to our hearts, to look for Christ in the leaves of the gospel is to look for the living among the dead.
--Jeremy Taylor (1613-1667), Anglican Bishop and Divine

Day by day we praise you: an introduction to the Daily Office

3. The Setting for Daily Office

Since beginning in 1983, I have offered daily prayers to God in a wide variety of locations. I have said Office in hotel rooms, on vacation, in subway cars, busses, on airplanes (getting some interesting looks from my fellow passengers), in cathedrals and a seminary chapel (joining in beautiful choral liturgies), by the side of the ocean, in my place of work, in cemeteries (pulling off the road on a journey), and with small groups on retreats or at meetings. Through it all, I have marveled at the flexibility of the Office.

The vast majority of times, though, I have prayed the Daily Office at home, occasionally with my wife, but usually just with the saints and angels as we offer “spiritual sacrifices” to God the Holy Trinity. Since this is the case for many people, I would like to take time to think for a bit about the setting for our prayers.

I am a visually-inclined person. The environment around me “counts.” Thus, for me, the place where I normally offer the Daily Office has the “air of sanctity” about it. This means a wall cross, icons, candles, a place to kneel, a place for holy water, a vessel for incense, and a few other such appointments. In short, I have over the years assembled something of a small oratory or chapel for saying Office.

Are these things essential? No. But, they are a joy and a point of focus wherein I experience “the beauty of holiness,” affirming the goodness of Creation and the centrality of the Incarnation. Anglicanism has no fundamental quibble with this either in our churches or at home.

However, there are many people for whom such adornments are of no particular value. For them, the setting for their prayer is almost immaterial. They, too, are praying well within the Anglican tradition’s embrace.

The key point is that we find a setting which is as free from distraction as possible and encourages the prayerful encounter God seeks with us, and we with God. Some suggestions toward this end include:
  • Using a room with a door (Matthew 6:6) for privacy and quiet
  • Having something upon which to focus visually (a cross, candle, icon, &c.)
  • Silencing phones or other devices; our prayer must take absolute priority

Some people find it helpful to assume the physical positions (standing, kneeling, sitting) found in the rubrics (directions in italics for carrying out the service). Others do not. One long-time prayer of the Office I know, who suffers from a number physical debilities, has told me “the first thing I need to find in order to pray Office without distraction is a comfortable chair, so my mind isn’t on my aches and pains!”

If you are blessed to be near a church offering the Daily Office as a public service, you might consider making attendance part of your Rule of Life (minimum commitment of spiritual practice). If your local parish does not offer a public Office, you might want to talk with the clergy or lay person in charge about establishing that custom. As the Church gradually is forced to return to its essential mission (forsaking the blind and discordant alleys of recent decades), there are signs that the richness and wholeness of our tradition will increasingly appeal to our spiritually-impoverished and fragmented world. Since the Daily Office does not require the presence of an ordained person to be offered, this is an ideal opportunity for the laity to take leadership in the parish’s worship and mission to our needy society.

Whether said at church or at home or someplace else, the regular setting for the Daily Office must allow us to focus on the loving relationship between the Holy Trinity and ourselves. Now, let us learn the basic “grammar” of the Daily Office, that this daily love song may commence, continue, and culminate in eternal joy.

Day by day we praise you: an introduction to the Daily Office

Photo: Bob Griffith

2. What is needed for praying the Daily Office?

The two absolute essentials for this are a Prayer Book and a Bible. Part of the wisdom of the Anglican form of worship is its richness and yet its simplicity. Using the Book of Common Prayer (BCP), one has a resource with many treasures, a “mansion with many rooms” for prayer. Together with the Holy Scriptures, the Prayer Book forms a complete unit.

Within the Prayer Book there are several essential parts we will need to know about (and have marked with a ribbon or bookmark or other way of keeping them handy):

The Daily Office section: pages 37-146
This is the “heart” of the Office, giving the structure, essential prayers, and guidance for saying each service.

The Daily Office Lectionary section: pages 934-1001
This is the table of readings for each day or occasion in the Church Year. It comes in a two-year cycle (we have just begun Year One in Advent of 2010). Each day has a set of morning and evening Psalms, and then three lessons from Scripture.

The Psalms: pages 582-808
Because they are used so much in our worship, the BCP has its own translation of the Psalms bound right in it. This version of the “Psalter” is based on centuries of Anglican Psalm translations, and is very conscious of the sound and feel of language. It is also carefully edited to mesh well with how we use the Psalter in the Daily Office. We are free to use any translation of the Psalms for personal recitation of the Office, but the BCP translation of the Psalms is always our baseline version.

The Collects: pages 158-261
These are the prayers for the various Sundays, Holy Days, and special occasions through the Year. Very often, the Collect for a particular Sunday is used for the whole week in the Daily Office. Using the proper Collect is a valuable part of exploring the richness and meaning of the Liturgical or Church Year. The Collects also contain much essential Anglican doctrinal teaching.

The Calendar: pages 15-33
The Calendar helps us understand how the Church Year works, and where we are in the Liturgical year each day; it will show us when special Holy Days occur, allowing us to find the proper readings and prayers to go with them.

The Prayers and Thanksgivings section: pages 810-841
This is a collection covering many concerns and occasions not found in other places of the Prayer Book. Many of these prayers are useful in saying the Daily Office, as well as offering prayer at other times in our day and life.

As to the Bible, I would suggest a generally-recognized translation to begin with (The New Revised Standard Version has become the norm in the Episcopal Church). Whichever translation you use, it needs to have the Apocrypha (also known as the Deuterocanonical books), since these are part of the Anglican Bible tradition, and are referenced with some regularity in the course of the Two Year Cycle of readings.

Some other resources:
  • Some people like to say the Daily Office online. There are quite a few resources for this now, and some are very helpful. I would suggest, however, that one learn to say the Office “off-line,” using the Prayer Book and the Bible. This is more than a reverence for paper or a nostalgia for old things. By being “disconnected” from the Internet one is making an essential step towards connection with God, the angels, and the saints alone. Office needs to be a time of reflective, contemplative focus: being online and dealing with all the issues electronic communication inevitably brings up makes such focus difficult, if not impossible. Let us choose quality over quantity in prayer; this is God’s way (Matthew 6:6-8), and should be ours as well. Our minds are distracted enough without the addition of network interference, software problems, connectivity issues, “unintended” Google searches, or dead batteries.
  • Many people find a hymnal to be a useful companion for saying Office, using hymns appropriate to the time of day, the season, or the feast day being observed.
  • Some Episcopalians use the Forward Movement, Day-by-Day resource as a way to get their daily Scripture lessons, as well as a short meditation on that day’s theme, and names of places and ministries in the Anglican Communion for which to pray. This is a good resource (the paper version is available in our parish’s narthex), though it does not always provide for the same richness found in the Prayer Book’s Daily Office lectionary. It is a good place to begin, though. Here is a link to the daily online version of this publication.
  • Books of additional prayers and devotions can be helpful, as long as they don’t “take over” the Office, distorting its basic (and balanced) structure and pattern.
  • An intercession journal can be a great asset in offering the Daily Office. Such a journal contains those persons and concerns for which we pray. Updated periodically (and with thanksgivings, too!), a journal of intercessions opens up the meaning of daily prayer. Through intercession, we learn and practice an essential part of what it means to be a priestly people by sharing in Christ’s work of reconciliation. (2 Corinthians 5:18)
  • Readings from the Early Church have long formed a part of the Monastic Office and can be used profitably by those engaged in the Anglican Daily Office. Though expensive, one of the best resources for this is Fr. Wright’s excellent Readings for the Daily Office from the Early Church. (This book is reviewed by customers at here.) Readings from the Early Church help us understand the faith from some of the greatest Christian teachers. Anglicanism has always believed that the teaching and practice of the Early and Undivided Church has unique authority.

The list of additional resources—online or in books—is essentially endless. So, let us move on to the next consideration: the setting in which we say the Office.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Day by day we praise you: an introduction to the Daily Office

1. What is the Daily Office?

One of the supreme joys of the Anglican spiritual life is the use of the Daily Office, our form of the ancient Liturgy of the Hours. Indeed, it has been said that one cannot truly come to understand Anglicanism from the inside until one has come to use this part of our tradition in one form or another.

The Daily Office is the means by which Anglican Christians pray to God in formal times of confession, scripture readings, intercession, petition, and praise. The word “office” when used in this context means a service of prayer (from the Latin word meaning “a performance of a task”), apart from the Holy Eucharist. Through the Daily Office, the holiness of time is revealed, pointing as it does to the Eternal God who transcends time in Love. Like a pilgrimage, the Office provides a context for encounter with holiness, a pathway for learning the ways of God, the purposes of creation, and the destiny of humankind. It reveals itself as we grow in it, much like a friendship or a romance.

The Daily Office is found near the front of the Book of Common Prayer because it is assumed that each community of Christians in our tradition—or, each individual Christian, if the local church does not offer it—will keep a daily cycle of prayer. This has been an assumption of the Anglican Church since the Reformation, and (in turn) the Christian Faith from Apostolic times.

In the Episcopal Church, the Daily Office consists of Morning Prayer, Noonday Prayer, Evening Prayer, and Compline (prayers at the close of day). This “four-fold office” may be augmented by various other “lesser hours” from sources outside of the Prayer Book, if desired, but the basic pattern of calling upon God at morning-noon-evening-night is an ancient and sustainable one.

The basic structure of the Daily Office is simple and stable: confession of sin (to cleanse our conscience and come before our God in humility and honesty as recipients of Divine grace); Psalms and readings and songs from Scripture (to learn of his ways and praise him for his mercy), and prayers (to renew our commitment, to bring before God our needs, to intercede for others, and to grow in union with God).

The Daily Office was (and is in many places still) a public worship service of the Church, offered in great cathedrals, monasteries, and humble parish churches. When we turn to the Office in the Prayer Book, we immediately note that it is designed as a service for communal worship. However, the Office is often offered as a personal devotion, and can easily be prayed this way. Note: strictly speaking, the Office is never a “private” prayer, as all Christian prayer is part of the universal Church’s continuous offering of prayer and praise to God.

Anyone can learn to use the Daily Office. It takes a little practice, but so does anything else that is deep and worthwhile. Once one learns the basics, an entire universe of encounter between our soul, the Church, and our God opens up.

It is my honor to share with you the essential elements of learning how to use, and then how to grow in, the Daily Office. May God bless us all, that we may pray to him in heart, mind, and truth. Amen.

Some notes on Christmastide

The 12 Days of Christmas (from Christmas Day to Epiphany eve) cover a great deal of spiritual ground. The days immediately following Christmas Day visit the issue of witness (the Greek word for this being the same root from which the English word martyr comes) in an almost encyclopedic manner:
  • St. Stephen (Dec. 26, but transferred one day this year due to Sunday falling on that date, and Sunday takes precedence over lesser Holy Days) was the first martyr, witnessing to the death both in will and deed.
  • St. John (Dec. 27, but transferred one day this year) was a martyr in will, but not in deed. Tradition says he died of natural causes, but was beaten and exiled for his faith. Thus, he was ready to surrender his life for Christ, but was not ultimately called to do so.
  • The Holy Innocents (Dec. 28, but also transferred one day this year) were martyred in deed (mistaken as they were for the Christ-child by Herod’s soldiers) but not by will. They simply might have been Jesus; for this they and their families suffered. The Church still counts them as martyrs, so deeply does it respect their witness.
  • The lesser commemorations of St. Thomas Beckett (Dec. 29), whose witness against a power-hungry monarch ultimately cost him his life (a martyr in will and deed), and St. Sylvester on Dec. 31. He was the Bishop of Rome when Christianity was officially “tolerated” by Constantine the Great, and was faced with the dramatically different mission situation of the Church after the great persecutions. He died a confessor (a faithful witness to Christ who died peacefully, but who had been prepared to die for Christ prior to Constantine).

On January 1 we come to one of the Feasts of Our Lord: the Feast of the Holy Name, when Jesus was formerly named and recognized as a member of the Jewish community in the circumcision ritual eight days after his birth. This commemoration, along with the Feasts of the Presentation in the Temple (Feb. 2) and the Transfiguration (Aug. 6) are so significant that if they fall on a Sunday, they take precedence over that Sunday’s regular readings and prayers. With Holy Name Day, the Octave (eight day period) of Christmas is completed. The remaining days of Christmastide lead to the Feast of the Epiphany.

Episcopalians are bidden to keep the full 12 days of Christmas. This includes:
  • No fasting on Fridays
  • Keeping Christmas decorations up during the season (taken down at Epiphany)
  • Entertaining guests and offering Christmas hospitality
  • Varying one’s life in such a way that the 12 days of Christmas are a time of rest and rejoicing, rather than frantic busyness.
  • Sending out Christmas cards/letters during Christmas
  • Here is a good site for learning more about how to keep the 12 Days!

If we have kept Advent as a time of preparation and anticipation, we will not be so tired of feasting and celebrating that we cannot keep Christmas for its full duration.

Together with saying the Daily Office from the Prayer-Book and attending Christmas liturgies at church, these patterns can help us experience the richness of this season, bringing us into deep contact with the joy and mystery of the Incarnation. Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 27, 2010

On the Feast of Stephen

An icon of St. Stephen by the hand of Matthew D. Garrett

We give you thanks, O Lord of glory, for the example of the first martyr Stephen, who looked up to heaven and prayed for his persecutors to your Son Jesus Christ, who stands at your right hand; where he lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting.  Amen. 
In the days following Christmas Day, a series of Holy Days occur in rapid succession. Each one is, to a certain degree, a commemoration of a different way of witnessing to Christ. The first of these is St. Stephen, whose story is told in the Book of Acts (in chapters 6-7, with chapter 8 flowing from the consequences of Stephen’s stoning).

Stephen was the first martyr (Proto-Martyr) of the Christian faith. He was also among the first deacons, a ministry of servant leadership in the Church—indeed, the first-named among the three ordained ministries of Deacon, Priest, and Bishop.

Stephen’s brief ministry, like a shooting star, powerfully affected all those who witnessed it. His speech before the Sanhedrin is a compression of the Old Testament and its fulfillment in Christ that, along with the Epistle to the Hebrews, makes clear how immediate was the Church’s understanding of the unity of Salvation History. In St. Stephen, we see the Old and New Testaments integrated and understood; we also see both the qualities of humble service and powerful leadership united in one person. So complete is his witness that even his name forms part of it: Stephanos means “Crown” in Greek.

His honesty and fearlessness earned him no respect from the political and religious leadership. Then, as now, those in power wanted to hear affirmation of the status quo rather than focus on the “bigger picture,” of which humans are always servants—not controllers. He was condemned, taken out, and stoned to death.

This, in the world’s eye, was his destruction. For the Church, however, it was his true “crowning.” His martyrdom set the pattern for Christian martyrdom: it pointed to Christ, not to Stephen. Stephen committed no violence towards others in order to prove a point. The point was “proved” by the Theophany of Christ at God’s right hand as Stephen died. We must at all costs keep this mind when grappling with what martyrdom means in the Christian faith.

The author of Acts ends Stephen’s earthly journey with the simple words: “While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’ Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them.’ When he had said this, he died.” To the end, Stephen—like all faithful disciples—sought only to be like his Lord in humility and love even as he refused to compromise in truth and justice.

St. Stephen was a witness (martyr) both in will and deed. He (like all of us) was called to be ready to offer his life as a libation to God and our neighbor. When that call came, he did so. His was a crowning “total witness,” the first of so many, in the Christian faith. For this we give thanks “on the Feast of Stephen.”

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christ is born: Glorify Him!

From a sermon of St. Gregory Nazianzus on the Nativity

Christ is born: glorify him. Christ comes from heaven: go out to meet him. Christ descends to earth: let the heavens rejoice and let the earth be glad, for his sake who was first in heaven and then on earth. Christ is here in the flesh: let us exult with fear and joy—with fear, because of our sins; with joy because of the hope that he brings us.

Once more the darkness is dispersed; once more the light is created. Let the people that sat in the darkness of ignorance now look upon the light of knowledge. The things of old have passed away; behold, all things are made new. He who has no mother in heaven is now born without father on earth. The laws of nature are overthrown, for the upper world must be filled with citizens. He who is without flesh becomes incarnate: the Word puts on a body; the Invisible is seen; he whom no hand can touch is handled; the Timeless has a beginning; the Son of God becomes Son of Man—Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today and forever.

Light from light, the Word of the Father comes to his own image, in the human race. For the sake of my flesh he takes flesh; for the sake of my soul he is united to a rational soul, purifying like by like. In every way he becomes human, except for sin. O strange conjunction! The Self-existent comes into being; the Uncreated is created. He shares in the poverty of my flesh, that I may share in the riches of his Godhead.

May you find time during Holy Christmastide to contemplate the mystery St. Gregory the Theologian puts forth in this passage. God grant you peace during this season!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

With us: O Emmanuel

O Emmanuel, our King and Lawgiver, the Desire of all nations and their Salvation: Come and save us, O Lord our God.

One of our greatest fears is to become acutely aware that we are alone or abandoned--so much so that a currently popular form of punishment for children (usually spoken of as a form of "consequences, so as not to us the "p" word) is to give them a “time out:” a sanitized term meaning enforced aloneness. The Advent hymn “O heavenly Word, eternal Light,” has these words on the subject: “O let us not, for evil past, / be driven from thy face at last.” That is perhaps the "time out" all those who think on the level of love and eternity most fear.

Christianity knows that humans were created to live in communion with God the Holy Trinity, with each other, and with the Creation. Whenever there is a division among these, there is sin, death, and suffering.

The final Great O Antiphon calls upon God to come and save us in words both majestic (King, Lawgiver) and deeply personal (Desire, Emmanuel). Of these, the most poignant is Emmanuel: meaning God with us. In these words we are told what we all want most to hear, especially in moments of vulnerability and doubt: we are not alone. The long “time out” is over. The healing, the hoped-for but never really expected reunion, has come. In Christ, God has bridged the seemingly unbridgeable gap.

Each Christmas, we recall this did not happen by our efforts, by our “evolution” into brighter or wiser beings, or by our discovery of the magic formula to make things better. It came by a gift, uniquely given and unsought. It comes by God entering into our very midst, taking on our bodies and limitations and struggles. So unlikely was this that most people rejected the gift when it was offered.

And so it goes through history. Until the end of the ages, people will be faced with this choice: do we accept this gift or not? Whatever our answer, though, one thing remains: God is with us now. There is no going back. From the Nativity in Bethlehem to the Abandonment on the Cross, he has tasted the fruit of what it means for us to live apart; but he is faithful to the uniting will of the Father, and he has brought us back together with His Father. 

Now, we must learn to love and serve each other and the Creation around us—for these, too, are part of what it means for Christ to be Emmanuel: God with us. By living in the power of the Holy Spirit, we are bound to this communion of the Trinity, and acquire more and more deeply the Mind of Christ, as St. Paul calls it, by which we truly become people of Emmanuel. For the saints, God being with us is no longer a theory or a concept: it is a way of life. Our works of mercy and our life of prayer are all parts of that response to God's initiative, all part of what it means to receive the gift now given and be with the Giver.

May this Advent conclude by bringing us in humility, mercy, and wonder to the very doors of the stable, where with the Holy Family, the angels, the shepherds, the animals, and the Magi, we may kneel in awe before the Christ-child, giving wordless thanks that, finally, God is with us—and we are with Him.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Over-functioning Clay: O Rex gentium

O King of the nations, and their Desire, you are the cornerstone who makes us both one: Come and save the creature whom you fashioned from clay.

I often find myself trying to do, be, think, and expect too much. Rather than allowing Jesus to be the true desire in my life, I settle for something much less: getting my way, following my desires, setting the limits of my life. It feels good for a time; but it always leads to a crisis, eventually.

The Great O Antiphon for this day serves as an aural antidote to this. Using the exalted language of kings and cornerstones, this brief sentence reminds us that we are but earth, clay. We are, in a sense, mud. Great, glorious mud—fashioned by God into superb beings and given the image of God—but mud, nonetheless. When we forget this, we tend to become destructive to ourselves and others; we cease to look to God for life and direction. While we try to become more than were meant to be, we sink into the mire from which we arose. We become, in short, over-functioning clay.

America tends to reward over-functioning. Few things seem to be more lauded than burning out in the pursuit of imagined excellence. Like a shooting star on a bleak, cloudless winter night, so many people froth and burn for a short, intense arc… only to become profoundly damaged by their bid to displace Jesus as the “desire of nations.”

The Christian life is marked by humility, being “earthed” in reality. This is no shame. It is being rooted in the truth, free to live as we were meant to. During the last days of Advent, we are recalled to this truth in the O Antiphons, even as they frame the words of the Magnificat—St. Mary’s great song of thanksgiving for God’s amazing decision to bring the wayward clay of humanity back into the loving and redeeming hands of the Master Potter.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Roots and Ensigns: O Radix Jesse

O root of Jesse, you stand as an ensign to the peoples; before you kings will shut their mouths, and nations bow in worship: Come and deliver us, and tarry not.

The language of our faith often combines two seemingly opposite ideas, juxtaposing them so that between these opposing “poles,” a “charged particle field” is created. This field of faith, if you will, is the place where the mystery of God is made manifest. It is to that place that all authentic belief goes. We have such language—and its benefits—in this Great O Antiphon: roots and ensigns.

Roots are in the ground and immobile. Ensigns (flags or banners, signs and symbols of something) are above the ground and tend to move a great deal. Roots anchor. Ensigns lead. Roots hold things in place. Ensigns draw us onward. Roots are hidden. Ensigns are very visible (that is their point). Our Lord is both these things. In understanding this, we can understand more deeply the fullness of Christ's claim on us as well as his power to redeem us.

Christ is addressed here as both the “root of Jesse” (connecting him the Davidic lineage of Israel, literally rooting him in the historic past) and as an “ensign to the peoples” (a banner of God’s redeeming purpose for all nations). Both in his royal lineage and as sign of the Divine power, Christ is the King of Kings, and Lord of Lords. His dominion is in both the ancient, rooted reality of human experience, and in the constantly moving, changing situations of the here-and-now. All human power, above and below, high and low, must and will “bow in worship” on the Last Day.

But this imagery speaks to Christ’s disciples, as well. Are we truly rooted in our spiritual ancestry, or are we rootless creatures, pushed here and there by the anxieties and passions of our day? Does our life look to Christ as ensign, or do we follow other banners, with divided loyalties? If kings will shut their mouths and nations bow in worship to Christ, can the same be said for us as disciples now? Examining our finances, the state of our relationships with family and friends, our level of charity to those in need, the places we go on the internet, how we judge others, and the way we use our time… all of these tell God where we are rooted, and whose ensign we follow.

The Fire that Heals

Moses before the Burning Bush

O Adonai, and Leader of the house of Israel, you appeared in the bush to Moses in a flame of fire, and gave him the law on Sinai: Come and redeem us with an outstretched arm. 
(Second of the Great O Antiphons before Christmas)

Fire: it can warm and it can burn. It is one of the essentials for anything beyond the most primitive existence, but it can also destroy us. The Great O Antiphon for this day recalls Moses’ encounter with God in the Burning Bush, as well as the giving of the Law on Mount Sinai, after Moses had passed through the fire, smoke, and darkness surrounding its summit. Again and again, from the fiery sword of the cherub at Eden’s gate, through the fires of the Temple’s altar and the fire of the Spirit’s presence among the Disciples on Pentecost, to the fire which finally consumes all that is evil in Revelation, fire forms part of our faith's vocabulary.

Advent, with its twin themes of preparing for Christ’s coming at Bethlehem and again at the End of the Ages, is both a season of joy and a time of burning clarity. In secular society, it is a frantic time, often marked by anxiety and a temporary leave of one’s senses in spending, doing, eating, and drinking far too much. But, for the Christian, it is a season of coming to one’s senses on the deepest level. Illuminated by the light of God’s presence in the story of Creation, Fall, Plan of Salvation, Redemption in Christ (as marvelously expressed in the annual Lessons and Carols service), we are awakened from the delusions and alienation from truth that so pervade our world. No compromise can be made between God and delusion. The fire of Advent both lights up this fact, and purges away the delusion in its healing flame.

What emerges, St. Paul reminds us, is a person who has been chastened: chastened, but also freed.
Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— the work of each builder will become visible, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each has done. If what has been built on the foundation survives, the builder will receive a reward. If the work is burned, the builder will suffer loss; the builder will be saved, but only as through fire. (1 Corinthians 3)
God’s purpose in all of this is not to destroy us; it is to awaken us to what is real, to what is in his holy life-giving will, to what is holy and eternal. This, alone, will give us the peace and joy we seek. The delusions we accumulate master us, enslave us, and lead us to woe. When we respond to God’s grace in Christ, we begin the process of receiving our freedom. 

That journey may take some time, but the decisive step is when we turn to our God and pray: “Come and redeem us with an outstretched arm!” as does this antiphon. Then the fire of God—a fire of love and renewal—can burn away the dross and reveal the glory of the Image of God buried within us.

Friday, December 17, 2010

O Sapientia: Come and Teach Us

O Wisdom, you came forth from the mouth of the Most High, and reach from one end of the earth to the other, rightly and sweetly ordering all things: Come and teach us the way of prudence.

The first of the O Antiphons speaks of universal comprehensiveness: from one end of the earth to the other. In the secular world, this notion usually ends up meaning some form of coercive power, one that forces conformity. But the holy Wisdom of God—Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh—used no coercion. Christ calls to us in love, and wherever the Image of God in us exists, to that extent we may respond in the power of God’s loving grace.

Knowing this, perhaps we can understand why the antiphon ends as it does: “Come and teach us the way of prudence.” Instead of turning back to earthly power, with its fantasies of compulsion, majority votes, and determinism, we call upon God to teach us the holy way of divine prudence, “rightly and sweetly ordering all things” in the harmonious and impelling language of the Divine love, the Wisdom of God: Christ our Lord.

A Litany of the Holy Spirit

What follows is an Embertide devotion (slightly adapted) derived from The Cuddesdon Office Book. While rather lengthy (to modern people, with our short attention span) and written in traditional language, I have found it, along with the Southwell Litany, an excellent devotion for the quarterly Embertides. While written for the clergy, much of it is easily adapted for lay use. 

I offer it for whomever is led to it. May you find in it the riches for reflection, repentance, and renewal I have over the years. A blessed Embertide to you!

The Litany of the Holy Spirit
(Especially for use at the Embertides)

Lord, have mercy upon us.
            Christ, have mercy upon us.
Lord, have mercy upon us.

O God the Father, of heaven;
            Have mercy upon us.
O God the Son, Redeemer of the world;
            Have mercy upon us.
O God the Holy Spirit, the Comforter;
            Have mercy upon us.
O holy, blessed, and glorious Trinity, three Persons and one God;
            Have mercy upon us.

O Holy Spirit, who at the beginning didst move upon the face of the waters;
            Have mercy upon us.
O Holy Spirit, by whose inspiration holy men of old spake as they were moved;
            Have mercy upon us.
O Holy Spirit, power of the highest, that didst overshadow Mary;
            Have mercy upon us.
O Holy Spirit, through whom the holy Child Jesus waxed strong in spirit, and was filled with wisdom;
            Have mercy upon us.
O Holy Spirit, who didst descent like a dove, and lighten upon Christ our Lord, at his baptism;
            Have mercy upon us.
O Holy Spirit, of whom Jesus was led up into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil;
            Have mercy upon us.
O Holy Spirit, eternal Spirit, through whom Christ our Priest and Victim offered himself without spot to God;
            Have mercy upon us.
O Holy Spirit, who on the day of Pentecost didst descend upon the Apostles in the likeness of fiery tongues;
            Have mercy upon us.
O Holy Spirit, by whom we have been brought out of darkness and error into the clear light and true knowledge of God, and of his Son Jesus Christ;
            Have mercy upon us.
O Holy Spirit, by whom the whole body of the Church is governed and sanctified;
            Have mercy upon us.
O Holy Spirit, by whom we were new-born in Baptism;
            Have mercy upon us.
O Holy Spirit, who didst strengthen us with they sevenfold gift at Confirmation;
            Have mercy upon us.
O Holy Spirit, who makest intercession for us with groanings that cannot be uttered;
            Have mercy upon us.
O Holy Spirit, by whom the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts;
            Have mercy upon us.
By thy eternal procession from the Father and the Son;
            Deliver us, O Holy Spirit.
By thy glorious work in the mystery of the Incarnation;
            Deliver us, O Holy Spirit.
By thy lighting as a dove upon Jesus at his baptism;
            Deliver us, O Holy Spirit.
By thy descent in likeness of fire on the day of Pentecost;
            Deliver us, O Holy Spirit.
By thy life-giving power and might;
            Deliver us, O Holy Spirit.
By thine all-powerful intercession;
            Deliver us, O Holy Spirit.
By thy continual abiding in the Church;
            Deliver us, O Holy Spirit.
From all sin;
            Deliver us, O Holy Spirit.
From presumption and despair;
            Deliver us, O Holy Spirit.
From impenitence and hardness of heart;
            Deliver us, O Holy Spirit.
From envy, hatred, and malice, and all uncharitableness;
            Deliver us, O Holy Spirit.
From impurity, whether of mind or body, and from all that has ever defiled thy temple within us;
            Deliver us, O Holy Spirit.
From the spirit of thoughtlessness and levity;
            Deliver us, O Holy Spirit.
From the spirit of covetousness and self-seeking;
            Deliver us, O Holy Spirit.
From the lust of honor and pride of life;
            Deliver us, O Holy Spirit.
From deafness to they call and warnings;
            Deliver us, O Holy Spirit.
From neglect of thy graces and inspirations;
            Deliver us, O Holy Spirit.
From that sin against thee which has no forgiveness;
            Deliver us, O Holy Spirit.
 [In our preparation for the work of the ministry;
            Help us, O Holy Spirit.
In the solemn hour of Ordination;
            Help us, O Holy Spirit.]
In our dealings with souls committed to our charge;
            Help us, O Holy Spirit.
In success and in failure;
            Help us, O Holy Spirit.
In the solemn account that we must one day give;
            Save us and help us, we humbly beseech thee, O Lord.
We sinners do beseech thee to hear us, O Holy Spirit, that it may please thee to guide thy holy Church universal into all truth, and to fill it with thy love;
            Hear us, O Holy Spirit.
That we may give diligence to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace;
            Hear us, O Holy Spirit.
That, as we live in the Spirit, we may also walk in the Spirit;
            Hear us, O Holy Spirit.
That we may renounce the devil, the world, and the flesh;
            Hear us, O Holy Spirit.
That we may mortify the deeds of the body;
            Hear us, O Holy Spirit.
That we may grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ;
            Hear us, O Holy Spirit.
That with sincerity of purpose we may aim in all things at God’s greater glory;
            Hear us, O Holy Spirit.
That, in all our thoughts, words, and words, we may be confirmed more and more to the life and passion of the Lord Jesus;
            Hear us, O Holy Spirit.
That we may be gentle, apt to teach, patient, in meekness instructing those that oppose themselves;
            Hear us, O Holy Spirit.
That we may rightly and duly administer thy holy Sacraments;
            Hear us, O Holy Spirit.
That we may ever reverently handle and devoutly receive the blessed Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ;
            Hear us, O Holy Spirit.
That we may be enabled to shew forth thy light in the world, and be holy examples to the flock of Christ;
            Hear us, O Holy Spirit.
That we may be filled with thy sevenfold gift; the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and ghostly strength, the spirit of knowledge and true godliness, and the spirit of thy most holy fear;
            Hear us, O Holy Spirit.
That in our ministry we may not care to please, nor fear to displease, any but him who has called us to his service;
            Hear us, O Holy Spirit.
That we may count not our lives dear unto us, so that we may finish our course with joy, and the ministry received of the Lord Jesus;
            Hear us, O Holy Spirit.
That we may ever be mindful of that solemn account, which, for ourselves and others, we must one day give at the judgment-seat of Christ;
            Hear us, O Holy Spirit.
That we may have grace to persevere unto the end;
            Hear us, O Holy Spirit.
Holy Spirit;
            We beseech thee to hear us.
Lord, and Giver of life;
            We beseech thee to hear us.
Thou who didst descend at Pentecost;
            Have mercy upon us.

Lord, have mercy upon us.
            Christ, have mercy upon us.
Lord, have mercy upon us.

Our Father, &c.
V. The Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost;
R. He shall teach you all things.

Let us pray.
God, who didst teach the hearts of thy faithful people by the sending to them the light of thy Holy Spirit; Grant us by the same Spirit to have a right judgment in all things, and evermore to rejoice in his holy comfort; through the merits of Christ Jesus our Savor, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, world without end. Amen.

Almighty God, unto whom all hearts be open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid; Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of thy Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love thee, and worthily magnify thy holy name; through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Almighty and everlasting God, by whose Spirit the whole body of thy faithful people is governed and sanctified: Receive our supplications and prayers which we offer before thee for all members of thy holy Church, that in their vocation and ministry they may truly and godly serve thee; through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen

[And these prayers may be added or used as alternatives.

Let us pray for those who are to be ordered Priests.

O God, great in power, unsearchable in understanding, wondrous in counsels toward the children of men; Fill, we beseech thee, with the gift of thy Holy Spirit those who at this time humbly desire thy holy office of the Priesthood; that thy may be worthy to stand before thy holy altar unblameably, to announce the word of thy truth, to offer gifts and spiritual sacrifices unto thee, and to renew thy people in the laver of regeneration; that at the second coming of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, thin only-begotten Son, thy may go forth to meet him, and by thy multitude of thy mercies receive their reward: through the same Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Let us pray for those who are to be ordered Deacons.

O Lord, our God, who by thin own presence dost shed the abundance of thy Holy Spirit on those who are set apart by thine inscrutable power, to become ministers and to serve thy spotless Mysteries; Keep thy servants who humbly desire the holy office of Deacon, that they may hold the mystery of the faith in pure conscience, with all virtue; enable them to discharge according to thy good pleasure the office assign to them by thy mercy; and fill them with thy holy and life-giving Spirit, with all faith and love, all power and sanctification. For thou art our God, and to thee we render glory, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.

We pray and beseech thee, O Lord, in thy love and goodness: Send out from the height of thy holy dwelling-place, on all these thy servants for whom we have now made supplication unto thee, the Paraclete, the Spirit of truth, the Holy, the Lord, the Giver of life, who spake in law and prophets and apostles, who is everywhere present and filleth all things, and worketh by his sovereign choice in whom he will, sanctifying them after thy good pleasure; that thy great and holy name may be glorified through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.]

Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us, unto him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus unto all generations for ever and ever. Amen.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

On the Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary

As Eve was seduced by the word of an angel and so fled from God after disobeying his word, Mary in her turn was given the good news by the word of an angel, and bore God in obedience to his word. As Eve was seduced into disobedience to God, so Mary was persuaded into obedience to God; thus the Virgin Mary became the advocate of the virgin Eve.
St. Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons [c. 202] in Against Heresies

December eighth is in many Church calendars* the lesser feast of the Conception of the Virgin Mary. It commemorates the beginning of Mary’s life. Many claims have been made, rejected, and reasserted over the centuries about the mother of Our Lord. There is little to be gained by entering into that fray here. What seems right and profitable on this day is to reflect on the central role a young Jewish woman played in the story of salvation, as found in Scripture.

St. Irenaeus, writing so early in the Church’s history, meditates for a time on that role in this section of his great work on Christian faith. Mary was an essential part of the “synergy” between God (who initiates and empowers) and humanity (who respond in loving obedience) in the story of our redemption. Today’s feast celebrates her life and that loving response she will make to God—and calls on us to consider the quality and health of our own loving obedience in Christ.

In contemplating all of this, the great bishop-theologian of Lyons reminds us that just as Christ undoes Adam’s sin and its consequences, so Mary’s life and response is a direct reversal of Eve’s error. Disobedience is undone by a loving obedience. As St. Irenaeus remarks elsewhere, only in this way would the victory over evil be complete in every aspect.

There is a deep beauty and fullness to God’s redemptive action in the Gospel, something which this feast day celebrates, as well. Perhaps this valuing of beauty is one reason Marian devotion can seem foreign to many in our society today. In another age—one placing beauty at the center of life and not on the periphery along with other so-called “luxuries”—this symmetry between the fall of humanity and its redemption was understood as both validating and essential.

All of this is very good to consider as we prepare for the Feast of the Incarnation at Christmas.

Collect for the Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary:
Almighty and everlasting God, you lowered yourself to raise our fallen race by the childbearing of blessed Mary; Grant that we who have seen your glory manifested in our humanity, and your love perfected in our weakness, may daily be renewed in your image, and conformed in the likeness of your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

(*But not, alas, the Episcopal Church’s, in spite of the rather amazing infusion of new commemorations at the most recent General Convention.)

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Take St. Leo's "Childhood Test" this Advent

Christ loves the childhood which he first assumed in his soul and body. Christ loves childhood: toward it he steers the conduct of adults and toward it he leads the aged; after its example he fashions those whom he raises to the eternal kingdom. [Such childhood is shown in] …the rapid relaxing of inner tensions, the prompt return to calm, the total forgetfulness of offenses, the complete indifference to honors, sociability, and the feeling of natural equality.
St. Leo the Great (obit. 461; commemorated 10 November)

The above passage is very interesting to think about in the contemporary pre-Christmas context. All around us, we see a society which simultaneously sentimentalizes childhood while mocking innocence. St. Leo emphasized the centrality of a true childhood of holiness in Christ, not the selfish childishness of fallen humanity. Which sort of child are we becoming? As we journey through the Advent season, it is a good time to take St. Leo's "Childhood Test." The list of characteristics he says mark a true spiritual “childhood” include:

Rapid relaxing of inner tensions:
How often do we really take stock of the amount of tension we carry around? How much of this tension is truly legitimate, and how much of it is something we cling to for meaning, security, and significance?

The prompt return to calm:
Do we smolder with anger, find ourselves “wound up” all of the time? Are we actually afraid of letting go of our anxiety for fear of having nothing left to feel?

The total forgetfulness of offenses:
If we took the time to write them down, how many grudges do we hold? When we see people who have at one time or another hurt us, do we first see the injury or the person? Do we even consider moving towards forgiveness of others any longer?

The complete indifference to honors
How much does a title, a position, recognition from others, or our contributions mentioned really mean to us? When praised, do we simply say “thank you” and leave it there, or do we crave more praise than anyone could possibly give us, because of an immense empty gulf of personal value?

Being a child of God means being in healthy and life-giving social relationships with other children of God. When we indulge in childishness, we either suck the life out of others (always demanding to be the center of attention, judging others, requiring more and more of others, &c.) or we wall others off as we seek to live alone and self-sufficiently.

The feeling of natural equality
How comfortable are we in simply being equal with other people? Must we see others through the lens of “better or worse,” or can we see others as equal but different? Do we feel the need to compare ourselves to others rather than humbly come to understand them, learn from them, and share with them what it means to be a human made in the image of God?