A Prayer that actually isn’t out of date

Among the litany and prayers in the Prayer Book tradition, one of the groups in the “for the needy” category is for those who travel.  Here is Occasional Prayer #53, from page 662 in The Book of Common Prayer (2019).

O God, our heavenly Father, whose glory fills the whole creation, and whose presence we find wherever we go: Preserve those who travel [epsecially ___]; surround them with your loving care; protect them from every danger; and bring them in safety to their journey’s end; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

As much as I love history and tradition, this has often been an odd prayer subject for me.  Traveling is so much safer today than it was “back then”.  You can fly around the world in airplanes just about anywhere and although accidents happen your chances of coming home safe & sound are incredibly high.  So in my own prayer life whenever I encountered this sort of prayer, I would usually apply it in my heart to people I know who travel for a living, like truck drivers.

You can also spiritualize this sort of prayer really easily.  The Journey is one of several biblical images for the Christian life; we are all pilgrims on the Way of Christ, seeking our eternal abode in that heavenly city.  That’s a great and fruitful allegorical use of this prayer, complete with “every danger” that besets the Christian Journey.

But this prayer must have merit also in its “literal” construction.  And you know what?  COVID-19 has provided a context where this prayer has become more useful and meaningful.  When there is a plague, pandemic, or other widespread disaster or concern, traveling becomes a lot more dangerous.  Popping ’round the corner for groceries with a face mask is one thing, but traveling across multiple State lines in the US, where the infection rates have either fallen or dramatically risen (depending on the state and region) can get rather squirrely.  What differences in policy will I run into if I stop in New York State versus Pennsylvania?  Does Connecticut have the same guidelines as Massachusetts?  Does a family have to take particular self-quarantine measures if a household member has traveled a few hundred miles and back?

These are not questions we should be panicking about, or asking in fear, but they are issues to be concerned with and to seek mindful answers to.  Travel has become more complicated, and public health issues do make traveling more “dangerous” in one form or another.  So if you’re not accustomed to praying this Prayer For Those Who Travel, perhaps for now you’ve got a useful context for it.

FOUR versions of the Lord’s Prayer!?

Did you know that there are four versions of the Lord’s Prayer in the 2019 Prayer Book?

You may be aware of two already.  In just about every rite in the book, a traditional-language and contemporary-language rendition of the Lord’s Prayer are offered in parallel columns.  But how do we get four versions, then?  On pages 39 and 65, the following rubric can be found:

Either version of the Lord’s Prayer may be ended with “deliver us from evil.  Amen.” omitting the concluding doxology.

You may find that confusing – why would one opt for the shorter version?  Don’t just the Romans do the short version?

This rubric has some interesting history behind it; welcome to “Weird Rubric Wednesday”.

If you look at various Prayer Books before our own you’ll find a pretty clear pattern: the doxology is often omitted from the Lord’s Prayer.  Let’s list it out:

  • Beginning of Morning Prayer:
    1662 Yes, 1928 Yes
  • Among the Prayers of Morning Prayer:
    1662 No, 1928 Unspecified, 1979 Yes, 2019 Yes
  • Beginning of Evening Prayer:
    1662 Yes, 1928 Yes
  • Among the Prayers of Evening Prayer:
    1662 No, 1928 Unspecified, 1979 Yes, 2019 Yes
  • Beginning of the Lord’s Supper:
    1662 No, 1928 No
  • At the reception of Communion:
    1662 Yes, 1928 Yes, 1979 Yes, 2019 Yes
  • Baptism & Confirmation:
    1662 No, 1928 Yes, 1979 Yes, 2019 Yes

You can see a slow trend from a fairly even split of using or omitting the Lord’s Prayer’s doxology toward uniform use of that doxology.  A further detail in this sequence in the 1979 Prayer Book’s introduction of Noonday Prayer and Compline, in which the doxology is omitted from the Lord’s Prayer.  Thus, only in the 2019 Prayer Book has the doxology become ubiquitous.  These “weird rubrics”, however, note the two Offices in which we are formally invited to consider using the short form of the Lord’s Prayer, and it is the same two (Midday and Compline) as appointed in the 1979 Book.

In ordinary practice, the average lay person who doesn’t use the Prayer Book religiously is going to default to the one version he or she knows from Sunday mornings: what is said at the Holy Communion.  If certain Offices omit the doxology, many such people are going to have a big trip-up moment.  So from that practical perspective, one of the factors aiding this slow shift was merely simplifying things so there were fewer things for newcomers to mess up!

Anyway, in your own prayers and use of the 2019 Prayer Book, it is not going to be this Customary’s business to regulate which version of the Lord’s Prayer you ought to use at which points.  It is traditional to use the short version in most Offices and the long version at the Communion.  But if you’re praying all the Offices every day, plus other devotions like the Family Prayer mini-offices, then you’ll be saying the Lord’s Prayer many times a day, and it might be good to change up which version you use just to help avoid turning into a parrot!

A Prayer for Social Justice

The phrase “social justice” has a mixed bag when it comes to its reception among Christians.  Like the term “social gospel”, it is often considered the provenance of left-wing, liberal, or progressive Christianity, and held as suspect, or even in contempt, by conservative believers.

This is a bit of an irony, as many conservative Christians (evangelicals and Romans alike) are veritable Social Justice Warriors in the campaign to bring an end to abortion.  Although the term may not always be applied, the argument is that abortion is a social injustice (an affront to God’s ordering, or law, for a godly society) and therefore must be stopped.  That the term “social justice” is primarily used in the context of race relations or economic disparity, or other popular talking-points of a so-called left-wing cause, is most unfortunate.

Take, for example, this prayer from the 2019 Prayer Book.

  1. FOR SOCIAL JUSTICE

Almighty God, you created us in your own image: Grant us grace to contend fearlessly against evil and to make no peace with oppression; and help us to use our freedom rightly in the establishment of justice in our communities and among the nations, to the glory of your holy Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

A skeptic might accuse the new prayer book of being too “woke” and pandering to progressives with such an entry among its Occasional Prayers.  But the reality is that this prayer is not simply lifted from the oft-contested 1979 Prayer Book, but is also found in the 1928 Prayer Book.  Apart from some grammatical re-arrangement, it is the same prayer.  And, as should be obvious, 1928 was well before the present version of the American Left-Right divide existed, both in church and in society.  “Both sides” have just cause to make use of this prayer and its language of social justice.

So let’s take a quick look at what this prayer contains.  There are two requests and multiple reasons for those requests.  Here’s one way of breaking it down:

  • Grant us grace
    • fearlessly to contend against evil
    • to make no peace with oppression
  • Help us to use our freedom rightly in the establishment of justice
    • in our communities [“among men” in the 1928]
    • among the nations
    • to the glory of God’s Name

Whatever one’s personal politics, this is a sound prayer with good biblical theology.  We are to stand against evil (cf. Ephesians 6); we must not tolerate oppression (a frequent Old Testament concern); we are to use our freedom for good (1 Peter 2:16 & Galatians 5:13); we are to extend the call for justice begun in the ministry of Christ (Isaiah 42:1 with Luke 4:18) through the Church’s call to repentance and faith (Jeremiah 4:1-2).

Implementing the Archbishop’s Call to Prayer

Archbishop Foley Beach has called the Church to a week of prayer and fasting, beginning today.  You can read his full statement here: http://www.anglicanchurch.net/?/main/page/2052  The question we’re taking up here is that of how to implement his call to prayer, and use the resources which has named, as well as others in the Prayer Book.

First of all, today was already a fast day; this is the first of the Pentecost Ember Days.  The same goes for Friday and Saturday.  But this special call to prayer and fasting is, of course, something a bit beyond the ordinary.

The easiest way to fast and pray for the long-term is to give up one meal per day and replace it with a half-hour (or longer) time of prayer.  I would highly recommend using the Great Litany every day during a Week of Prayer. As its rubrics note (both in the 2019 Prayer Book and in the classical books), it is particularly appropriate for any time of “special entreaty” or disaster or strife.  If a bishop or archbishop asks for a special time of prayer, the Litany should be the first thing we put on our list.

Secondly, Archbishop Beach’s statement lists several Occasional Prayers (found on pages 657-661) that are particularly appropriate for this Week of Prayer.  He lists #39 through #51, which range from prayers for the nation through prayers for various aspects of society.  The Saint Aelfric Customary already has a recommended rotation through the Occasional Prayers; if you follow that then you’ll have covered #39 yesterday morning, #40-43 next Tuesday Evening, #44-47 last night, and #48-51 this evening.  If you’re not one who normally adds these additional prayers to the Daily Office, this week is a good time to give it a try.  There are twelve prayers listed in the Archbishop’s statement, so if you use even just one each Morning and Evening through this Week of Prayer, you’ll cover all of them by the end of next Wednesday.

However you do or don’t structure your prayers during this time, I hope these thoughts will help you participate in this holy call to intercede.  It is a privilege of God’s people that we can plead before the Throne of Grace on behalf of the world; let us not squander the opportunity nor scorn the call.

Summarizing Eastertide

I know Eastertide is about to shift gears, or even end, depending upon how you understand the bounds of the Easter season, but it’s better late than never… here is the next video in my series on the Church Calendar.

Subject Index:

  • 00:00 Definition & Major Themes
  • 05:38 Historical Features
  • 09:06 Walk-through in the 2019 Prayer Book
  • 12:40 Daily Office & other features
  • 17:36 A Collect for Strength to Await Christ’s Return

Links for further reading:

Domestic Spirituality

Most of the Occasional Prayers and Thanksgivings in the 2019 Prayer Book are fantastic resources.  One or two of them are “not my cup of tea”, and some are strange but oddly satisfying to me.  That is because it has sections for Personal Life and Personal Devotion, where you will find a number of prayers written from a particular spiritual perspective, or that come from a particular spiritual tradition.  I wrote about Saint Anselm’s intellectual-affective tradition last month, that’s an example of a particular spirituality at play.

Today let’s look at Occasional Prayer #71 For Christ To Be Formed In Us

Lord Jesus, Master Carpenter of Nazareth, on the Cross through wood and nails you wrought our full salvation: Wield well your tools in this, your workshop, that we who come to you rough-hewn may be fashioned into a truer beauty by your hand; who with the Father and the Holy Spirit live and reign, one God, world without end.  Amen.

First of all, it’s fun to point out that this is a rare example of a Collect that’s addressed to God the Son rather than God the Father.  There are a couple classical Prayer Book examples where this happens, so it’s not unheard-of.  It’s just a rarity.

And in this case it’s important that this prayer addresses Jesus because what this prayer seems to be (in my estimation) is the fruit of lectio divina.  This ancient practice of meditation on Scripture is related to the Anselmian tradition mentioned above.  One of the steps in (or “methods” of) lectio divina is imagining oneself in the scene of a biblical text.  It seems to me that the author of this prayer was meditating on Luke 2:51, or some other reference to Jesus’ life at home growing up at home, with Mary and Joseph, identifying him as a carpenter’s son, and then using that imagery in a prayer for our own spiritual growth.

We are to grow in the spirit.  Normally the biblical imagery for own spiritual growth is that of a tree with branches that bear fruit.  But, sticking with Jesus as the carpenter, we are envisioned instead as a workshop where he is laboring away.  The wood and nails of the Cross are also remembered, as the tools of his trade both as a carpenter and as Redeemer.  There is the acknowledgement that we were originally made good but the imago Dei is marred within us apart from his salvation and second birth, so we are “rough-hewn” in need of fashioning into “a truer beauty” by Christ.

This is, one might say, a very “domestic” spirituality.  Carpentry, an otherwise ordinary career in this world, is utilized to explore the Gospel of Christ and provide a metaphorical framework for the doctrine of sanctification – our continual growth in grace in holiness.  As a result, this prayer may strike you as especially “real”, appealing to images and themes that you are really very used to.  But if you’re not particularly handy with a hammer and nails this may feel like an awkward prayer to say.

Ironically I put together a small bookshelf just before typing this up.  And irony upon irony, I skipped the step where you hammer its cardboard back on, so as not to wake up my napping toddler.  So maybe I will be in a better frame of mine this evening than usual to pray this prayer.

Let us give thanks for God’s deliverance

In our recently-released order for praying the Occasional Prayers and Thanksgivings you will find Thursday evening is a time particularly dedicated to giving thanks.  Some of the thanksgiving prayers in the back of our Prayer Book are rather specific, and may not always resonate with the individual’s situation or experience.  But this one might be an interesting take right now:

  1. FOR DELIVERANCE FROM PERIL

Almighty God, our strong tower of defense in time of trouble: We offer you praise and heartfelt thanks for our deliverance from the dangers which lately surrounded us [and for your gracious gift of peace]. We confess that your goodness alone has preserved us; and we ask you still to continue your mercies toward us, that we may always know and acknowledge you as our Savior and mighty Deliverer; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

With hints of Psalm 46, this prayer celebrates in thanksgiving a deliverance that God has wrought among his people.  The bracketed phrase about his gracious gift of peace enables one to put this prayer into a post-war context, though it could easily serve many situations in a metaphorical sense too.

Some states and countries are beginning to “open up for business” now or in the near future.  Let’s not get into the debates of “too soon” or “too late”; our concern here is how we pray.  If you have come through this time healthy, housed, and fed, then you have much to give thanks for!  God’s goodness has preserved you from the dangers that lately surrounded you.  We are taught in holy scripture to give thanks even in the midst of our sufferings, though that is not one of the themes of this particular prayer.

But there is an important line in this prayer which we might not always remember to think or pray on our own: “we ask you still to continue your mercies toward us…”  It’s very easy to come out of peril with victorious mentality: I’ve overcome the challenge, we got through this, the fight is over, the battle won.  In reality, most perilous situations (be they wars, pandemics, family feuds, or whatnot) have after-effects and the threat of resurgence.  There is great concern that the second wave of COVID-19 will be worse than the first if it isn’t handled rightly at the onset.  So it is important that we don’t let down our guard and cease from prayer just because a problem looks like it’s going away.  This prayer directs us to keep up the petitions even in the midst of thanksgiving and deliverance.

Regardless of context, that’s an important lesson to take to heart, if one would become a mature Christian in prayer.

An Order for using the Occasional Prayers & Thanksgivings in the 2019 Prayer Book

The Daily Office of Morning and Evening Prayer have always provided for the allowance of additional prayers at the end.  The classic prayer books, in fact, provided a group of Additional Prayers immediately after (as well as within) the main text of the Daily Offices.  Modern books, like the 1979 and the 2019, have a much larger corpus of additional prayers located near the back of the book like an appendix.  This gives us the mixed blessing of having more quality prayers to draw from but the greater physical distance within the book such that they might more easily be ignored or forgotten.

To help remedy this, I’ve made available here in the past some orders for using the Occasional Prayers and Thanksgivings in the Daily Office.  Now the Saint Aelfric Customary is putting forth a third (and I think, final) version.

 

Occasional p+t

NOTE: All you have to do is download this picture, print it out, and use it as a bookmark in your prayer book!  If you want a document or spreadsheet with this information, please request one in the comments.

The previous versions were more jumpy, attempting to corral certain prayer topics to certain days.  After a few months of use I decided they could be streamlined to be easier to follow.  So here we are!  Let’s walk through how this works.

Two-Week Rotation

Because there are 125 prayers and thanksgivings, they are split into a two-week rotation so that an average of five are appointed for each Office.  You could combine them into a one-week cycle if you’ve got the attention span for it, I suppose.  Two prayers are omitted: #84 because it’s for meal times, not an office, and #106 because it’s better for the service of Antecommunion.

Wednesday and Friday Mornings are omitted because that is when the Litany is traditionally appointed to be said.  I assume that if you’re sufficiently “advanced” in your use of the Office to be making use of these prayers, you can (or should) be already praying the Litany.  Sunday morning is also an appointed time for the Litany, but in the scheme of this Customary, the Litany will actually be treated separately, between Morning Prayer and Holy Communion, and thus there is room for these prayers in Morning Prayer.

Monday

The twenty prayers for the Church are spread through the Offices on this day.

Tuesday

The prayers for the nation and most of the prayers for society are covered on Tuesday.  The morning in Week II has an inordinately large number of prayers appointed because there are included prayers specifically for Canada and for the USA, with the assumption that the individual will skip the national prayers that don’t apply.  #21-26, for Creation, were skipped and saved for Saturday.  #27 and #28 were separated into different groupings of prayer because they are very similar and would be a bit redundant prayed back to back.

Wednesday

The rest of the prayers for society are covered here, and the section of prayers for “those in need” is begun.

Thursday

The rest of the prayers for those in need are finished on Thursday mornings.  The evenings are for the thanksgivings, in keeping with the eucharistic theme accorded to Thursdays in some strands of liturgical tradition.

Friday

The evenings see the Family and Personal Life section begun.

Saturday

Week I holds the prayers for Creation, as Saturday is often a day off from work, and thus a day on which many people are likely to enjoy the outdoors.  More prayers for family and personal life are appointed here, as well as the beginning of the Personal Devotion section.  Most of the prayers for “Death, the Departed, and the Communion of Saints” also land on Saturday evening, matching the Good Friday to Holy Saturday to Easter Sunday pattern of spirituality.

Sunday

The last of the “Personal Devotion” section is covered on Sundays, as well as the last two “Death, the Departed, and the Communion Saints” section.  Most prominently, though, Sunday is when the “At Times of Prayer and Worship” section is used, splitting the preparatory prayers into the morning and the “after hours” prayers into the evening.


As a result, if you hold public Morning or Evening Prayer on Sundays, the occasional prayers here appointed will be particularly apt for the congregation’s interaction with the liturgy.

If you hold a public Office on a weekday, however, a pattern like this may not be beneficial.  The idea of this order is to provide the person(s) praying with the full scope of the Occasional Prayers’ contents, so if someone only experiences one weekday “slot”, then they’ll only experience one theme or category of occasional prayers.  In such a situation, it would be prudent to select occasional prayers from various groupings as is appropriate for the occasion, or as befits the lessons of the day.

A Prayer for Seeking God

April 21st is a minor feast day, or Optional Commemoration, honoring Saint Anselm.  He was an Archbishop of Canterbury, a monk and abbot, and a theologian of great repute to this very day.  I’ve written about him before, which you should feel free to peruse if you’re interested.  Here’s the link: https://leorningcniht.wordpress.com/2018/04/20/st-anselm-of-canterbury/

For our purposes, however, staying close to the subject of Anglican spirituality with the new Prayer Book, I would like to observe that one of the Occasional Prayers (#88, for Daily Growth) is drawn from the prayers of St. Anselm.  He wrote a whole treasure trove of prayers and devotions which are highly theological, both affective and intellectual, you could say.  And from among that material, translated into comfortable modern English, we get this:

Teach me to seek you, and as I seek you, show yourself to me;
for I cannot seek you unless you show me how,
and I will never find you unless you show yourself to me.
Let me seek you by desiring you, and desire you by seeking you;
let me find you by loving you, and love you in finding you.  Amen.

This is very affective (emotional) as well as intellectual.  A lot of people are more strongly one over the other.  I was raised in a non-denominational evangelical setting where affective spirituality was the rising star: true devotion to Jesus was expressed in terms of love and joy and excitement.  More and more, people were expected to raise their hands and their voices in song as a sign of their spirituality.  But that same church, in my childhood, was more intellectual: know the Scriptures, memorize key verses, study the basic points of doctrine and consider why you believe what you believe.  This story is not unique, by any means; almost everywhere you can find both crowds, sometimes coexisting peacefully and sometimes at odds with one another.  Anselm is great because he stands squarely in their overlap.

Intellectually, he writes of seeking God and God revealing himself to us because we can’t seek or find him on our own.  Affectively, he writes of seeking and finding God by desiring and loving him.  And all the way through its a “both/and” scenario: let us seek God by desiring God and desire God by seeking God.

So if you’re an emotion-driven person who worries about the intellectual credibility of your faith sometimes, latch on to this prayer: “let me seek you by desiring you… let me find you by loving you” because that’s what you already understand.  Or if you’re an intellectual person who worries about how much you actually love Christ, latch on to the other side of the prayer: “let me desire you by seeking you… let me love you in finding you.”  The act of seeking God is itself a sign of love and desire; the act of desiring God is itself a sign of seeking and searching.

What an encouraging little prayer.  Thank you, Archbishop!