12.21.2005

more divine hours - the practice

I hate to tell people what I do as if I've got a lock on this prayer thing (I don't). But, since what I use for prayer is nothing I've invented and since the Ultrarev asks, our Conference Superintendent (Richard Lucco) suggested Phyllis Tickle's The Divine Hours. It comes in three volumes for the year, four months for each volume. The Right Rev. Lucco says that one of the reasons he likes using this book is because he is no longer in control of his prayer life. Someone else is and he must submit to something beyond himself.

Tickle has taken her cue from ancient prayer practices and written complete prayer "services" for four periods during the day: morning (between 9 and 6 am), middday (between 11am and 2pm), vespers (between 5 and 8pm) and compline (just before retiring for the night.

Each period of prayer includes readings from Scripture, lots of psalms turned into prayer, ancient prayers and the like. For a great sampling I recommend you go to the explorefaith.org site. At the bottom of that page you can enter your time zone and it will display the prayers for that time period for that day. Of course, you could just use the web site for your prayers (it's free!) but I find holding onto a book and sitting away from my computer to be more conducive.

Pray the prayers slowly and with intention. Chant some of the psalms (as Augustine says, those "who chant the psalms pray twice". Which reminds me, do read Tickle's introduction; it's very enlightening as to the history and benefits of fixed hour prayer (with a brief lesson on chanting).

Each period of prayer takes as long as you want it to take. In the mornings in particular (when I make the time) I try to add 10-15 minutes of centering prayer before getting started (that's not easy to make time for, of course -- still learning). Prayer can take as little as 5 minutes. Sometimes I'm rushed, but I do it anyway. I find that the discipline of coming to prayer like this is like stitching into my day four connection points of prayer. I meet with God in an intentional way. I'm hooked.

You can use the Book of Common Prayer for this, but it is cumbersome to flip pages, etc. Tickle has organized her days neatly so that anyone can do this. Kim and I pray together whenever we can, especially at compline, but we change the prayers back to plural pronouns when we do.

Hope that helps. I highly recommend it. Peace.

12.20.2005

the divine hours revisited

I have been praying The Divine Hours for the better part of the last three months, now. This means, as I've alluded to earlier, coming to prayer four times a day. It means praying the Lord's Prayer four times a day, too. Of course, I do not always make it to prayer all four times, though I try. Most often I make three times a day, however.

When I first began praying these fixed hours I found it refreshing and exciting. I looked forward to coming to prayer at the next part of the day. A month or so in, however, I had to work at it a bit more. Some of the freshness was gone, but I still missed praying when I didn't get to it.

That freshness is back, however. One of the most powerful parts of my experience with this approach to prayer has been how different prayers connect to my experience on a day to day basis, even though I may be praying these same prayers daily for a week or a month. When I get to the end of the day and pray at compline, "Almighty God, my heavenly Father: I have sinned against you, through my own fault, in thought, and word, and deed, in what I have done and what I have left undone..." rarely a day goes by that I do not feel the sting of pain I have caused my wife or one of my children or someone with whom I have spoken. Rarely a day goes by that I do not realize how badly I am in need of God's forgiveness and mercy. And when I pray four times a day "forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors," I am humbled at how often those words have meaning for me personally, at how often I need to pray them. And I wonder what I did before I prayed those words four times a day.

And when I pray the closing prayers at the end of the day and remember struggles I've had with my children or with people I've dealt with at church who are in pain or suffering, these words connect my heart to God's in a special way as well: "Watch, O Lord, with those who wake, or watch, or weep tonight, and give Your angels and saints charge over those who sleep. Tend Your sick ones, O Lord Christ. Rest Your weary ones. Bless Your dying ones. Soothe Your suffering ones. Shield Your joyous ones, and all for Your love's sake. Amen."

12.13.2005

U2



I would be utterly remiss if I didn't write something about the U2 concert on Saturday night. First of all, WOW! I had no idea that concert would be that fun, that meaningful and yes, in places, that worshipful.

The place was electric. There was joy on every face. I looked around at one point at the faces of the people behind me as they were singing. They were in love. They were in the midst of a religious experience, at times. At several points during the evening the band could have stopped playing and singing and the audience would havce carried the rest of any number of songs. We knew them all and loved singing with the boys.

On Sunday morning, as we were about to sing our closing hymn ("O Come All Ye Faithful") I told the congregation that it would be neat to see the look of joy on the faces of those singing the hymn that I saw on the faces of those singing with U2. Many of them did a pretty good job. It was a closing hymn full of joy. I looked back at my oldest son, Asher, and he had it down. He looked so joyful that I started laughing.

One of the coolest things was when it came time to punch in my daughter's name for the ONE campaign (the rest of us had already signed it) I punched in her name. At the end of the first encore, her name appeared on the screen (with a bunch of others) just as the names were fading. Way cool!

I went to this concert thinking I probably wouldn't ever do this again. I left thinking I will definitely do this again.

12.07.2005

we're not in kansas anymore

One of the charter members of my congregation, way back in 1953, used to pray before each Sunday School class, "Dear Lord, may we grow and prosper." We have. But I think there is yet more substantial growth in our future, though it may not look like the kind of growth those charter members envisioned 52 years ago.

I am somewhat overwhelmed at times by this call to grow. I think, in many ways, we have all the pieces we need, save the intestinal fortitude of the pastor! Our church leaders are praying about proposing (and likely will) a new constitution, a move from the Council form to the Leadership Team form. We have some long range plans and a Building Committee as we are maxing out our space and parking. But, at the same time, we have some real challenging budget issues. Our income has not really grown in the last four years, even though our dreams for ministry and how to spend that income have! What are we to do?

It seems to me there are only three choices. We can do nothing and just accept ourselves as we are (which, I think, really means we will go backwards and die, not forward and live); we can go to two services to increase our growth, budget and therefore better enable ourselves to fund some of the building and program options we envision; or we can go straight to building something, which will require no small amount of (heretofore) unseen capital, and even more faith.

In addition to all of this, small groups loom large on the horizon if we are to become the kind of church many of us believe God wants us to become. If we go in this direction, it will likely mean a monumental shift in how we "do church". In short, it feels to me like an overwhelming amount of change headed our way and I feel rather small and insignificant (O me of little faith!).

What we need is some strategy and a plan. Where to start? How to get there? If anyone reads this and has some wisdom (I'll even take a sign from God or direct revelation if you have it!) on these issues, I'd love to hear from you, assuming someone's reading these things.