Jason: You ended our last post mentioning that “we respond to the readings of Scripture with praise.” Can you say more about what you mean by this?
Mike: In Morning and Evening Prayer, we respond to God’s Word in Scripture with praise. The most repetitive form of praise in the Daily Office is the Gloria Patri, an ancient short doxology (word of praise): “Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever. Amen.” We return to this simple phrase again and again in the Daily Office, a bit like the savasana pose in yoga. We mark the conclusion of the psalms and many pieces of praise by giving glory to God.
We also sing or read Canticles. A Canticle is a song of praise, often (but not always) from Scripture. The Canticles have been sung as part of the Liturgy for centuries. In the Anglican tradition, some of the most beautiful pieces of choral music are arrangements for singing the Canticles.
Responding to Scripture with praise can help us keep the focus on Scripture devotional, rather than analytical, as I mentioned in the last post. In Morning Prayer there are many different options for canticles, and you can find a table of suggested canticles to use after each reading on page.
Jason: I find that when a local faith community gathers for worship, the experience ought to be like putting on a pair of glasses–it ought to bring the rest of the week into perspective, offer a particular way of looking at our week. This repetition functions for me like a reminder of Who this is about and Who this is for.
I have another question for you. Coming from a tradition that was all about smooth transitions in public services, I’m always jolted by the start-and-stop flow of an Episcopal service. Some of this is intentional, I know. Can you explain?
Mike: That stop and go is about holding space for silence. You won’t find a bold heading in the Prayer Book that says “SILENCE.” The is no “SILENCE” section. Instead, in several places the Prayer book says simply “silence may be kept.” In a congregation, this can feel like stop and go, it can feel uncomfortable. But when worship is done well, there is space for silence.
Silence can feel a bit awkward in group settings, especially when you’re not used to quiet in prayer. Our lives are noisy. Silence doesn’t come naturally. But silence can be a huge gift. My own practice of prayer has been really informed in recent years by “Centering Prayer” as taught by Thomas Keating. I find that some of the most fruitful parts of The Daily Office are the moments when “silence may be kept.” When I pray by myself, sometimes I sit in that silence for 20 minutes before going on with the rest of the prayers.
Jason: You obviously don’t have children. 20 minutes of quiet doesn’t exist in a house with 3 kids. Unless we’re all asleep. I had a conversation with two young dads a few years back and we were lamenting the lack of silence in their lives. Work, family life… our lives get busy and loud! What I have learned through my attempts to pray with the Church through the Prayer Book is that silence is a soul-shaping, counter cultural practice. I may not have 20 minutes at a time but when I have 5 minutes, I know what to do with it. It’s provided me another “life hack” as you’ve put it.
Jason: What are petitions, Mike? This is a perfect example of one of those phrases that our use in popular culture and in the Prayer Book are quite different. And what the heck does “authorized intercessions… may follow” mean?
Mike: Petitions are prayers in which we make requests to God. Morning Prayer includes a number of written and invited prayers. The Lord’s Prayer begins this section in the Prayer Book service because this prayer really contains all those prayers which we need to say. There are official petitions and responses that help us remember the state of all of creation, our government, people in need, those who have died, etc. There are a number of optional “collects” or formal prayers that can be read. The service also invites us to pray ourselves and for others specifically with the short phrase “authorized intercessions…may follow.”
Mike: The Service of Morning Prayer also includes a long prayer called the “General Thanksgiving.” It helps us to remember to start the day by thanking God. In all prayer, the Prayer Book is trying to keep a balance, helping us to both ask God to provide for our needs and to give thanks back to God. Brené Brown, the Social Scientist and TED Talker, (and Episcopalian) says that her research shows that joyful people have one thing in common: a regular practice of gratitude. Finishing with thanksgiving helps us to end on the note of gratitude to God. As a plug for a particular prayer, I really like the alternate General Thanksgiving found on BCP 836. The prayer was written by Charlie Price, a longtime professor at Virginia Seminary, and helps me frame thanksgiving to God for all aspects of life.
Jason: Brown nails it in that TED talk! I have found that gratitude is one of those important practices for being a healthy person. Speaking of silence above, one of the most frequent ways I use times of quiet is to reflect on what I am grateful for.
Hacking The Daily Office
Jason: Previously, I mentioned that I saw Morning Prayer as primarily designed for communities. What about when we pray as individuals?
Mike: I mentioned a couple of “hacks” above for using the prayer as an individual: I add to the silence. I use forms of Lectio Divina with the Scripture. But sometimes it helps to simply read through the whole service by myself, because it reminds me that I am part of something bigger. Others are also reading and praying these words, or words like them, all across the world. We are united by prayer in the Body of Christ. But the structure can be heavy lifting for every day. I find that the short “Daily Devotions for Individuals or Families” (an authorized hack if there ever was one) in the 1979 Prayer Book are often very helpful summaries of The Daily Office.
Jason: I’ve used Phyllis Tickle’s “The Divine Hours”, which I like a lot. The introduction in volume one is priceless. I would also add that it’s important to hold on to these practices with a “loose grip.” Appreciate however much time you have to pray in these ways. If life cuts it short, it’s okay. It’s like exercise, build into your schedule what you can. Try to be as routine as possible. But don’t browbeat yourself about it.
Are there are other resources that you’d recommend?
Mike: The 1979 Prayer book is also not the be all and end all for Morning Prayer. It is The Episcopal Church’s official version of the tradition, but there are other great interpretations of the tradition. Sometimes I like to vary my practice by using the Prayer Book from New Zealand or one of the Monastic Community’s services. I also have really enjoyed the new “St. Augustine’s Prayer Book” edited by The Rev. David Cobb, which includes a great distillation of Morning Prayer. Additionally I will often complement the Scripture by adding on a non-biblical reading. Lately I’ve been reading Brian Taylor’s “Spirituality for Everyday Living: An Adaptation of the Rule of St. Benedict.”
Mike: If you’re interested in picking up a practice of The Daily Office, I would encourage you to give it some time. Commit to using the Prayer Book, or one of the other Devotional books for a season. Get into the rhythm, until you know some of the words by heart. See if you can’t find a church that has a service of morning or evening prayer, and check that out once or twice to help you get into the rhythm. It takes awhile for the service to feel natural. But the payoff for our inner life can be big.
Words often repeated can become habitual. Remembering our prayers can be helpful in times of crisis. The late Bishop Mark Dyer once spoke to a Theology on Tap gathering I hosted about the gift of the monastic office. Bishop Dyer had spent years as a Roman Catholic Benedictine monk before becoming an Anglican bishop. In the monastery, each night the monks would intone the same prayers and Canticles. He told us at Theology on Tap about a major cardiac he had. He needed open heart surgery. His anxiety was through the roof, but as the anesthesia started to take effect, habit took over. As they wheeled him into the operating room, he found himself reciting prayers from the monastic service. When we know the rhythm of the prayers of the Daily Office, we can pick up the thread and follow it home.