In February 2003, our church hosted a guest speaker named Mar Enoch, and as he took the pulpit he prayed these words: Father we honor you and we adore and bless your name. For this is the chief end of man – that we may glorify you and enjoy you all the days of our lives. And so we join our voices with the unending hymn of praise sung by angels and archangels, principalities, powers, thrones, dominions; the many-eyed cherubim and the six-winged seraphim who, covering their faces and feet flying to one another, singing and declaring that you are holy. The heavens and the earth are filled with your glory, and so we cry “Hosanna in the highest!”
And he went on…
This exceptional preacher also went by the name Veron Ashe, and at the time, he was an archbishop in the Mar Thoma Syriac Orthodox Church. He delivered the words of this prayer with deep feeling and emotion, but that wasn’t what arrested me – it was the words! The beauty and depth and theological substance were overwhelming. The sense that these words had been prayed in ancient times by men who were forerunners in faith and were now part of the great cloud of witnesses was also quite real.
My tradition frowned upon written prayers. They were never really considered as an option for several reasons. They were for people who didn’t have a personal relationship with Jesus, who didn’t know how to talk with him like a friend speaks with a friend. Written prayers were for folks who weren’t filled with the Spirit. Written prayers were also an “us vs. them” line of demarcation: the liberals and Catholics read their “prayers” but we prayed ‘em! Our prayers were sincere and personal and “anointed.” And the honest fact is, often times they were. But our prayers were often other things as well: rambling, awkward, theologically errant and emotionally indulgent. Hey – you take the good, you take the bad, you take them both and then you have…the facts of life (R.I.P. Alan Thicke).
In the spring of 2015 I was on a trip to Haiti with World Vision, and our liaison was an Episcopal priest from New Jersey. When he heard about our church and its journey toward a Spirit-filled expression of historic, classical Christianity (“convergence”), he asked me if I wanted to do the “morning office” with him. Now, I was engaged enough with this sort of thing that I actually had the Kindle version of the Book of Common Prayer (BCP), but I hadn’t a clue what the Daily Office was! I was eager to experience this, so the next morning I awkwardly fumbled through my iPad, trying to keep up with Father David. I wouldn’t exactly describe that first experience as “flowing” but it did impact me. It tapped a desire in me for a more grounded, consistent prayer life. I have always struggled with my “devotional life” or “quiet time.” By God’s grace, I eventually became a rabid, daily student of the Scriptures, but prayer? Eh…not so much. Much like the experience of my good friend Jonathan Martin, for my whole life in the church I was told that I needed to pray – pray more often, pray longer, pray louder – but no one taught me how!
The “daily office” is not the entirety of my prayer life, but it is the foundation of it. It involves morning and evening prayers and Scripture lessons as laid out in the BCP. One of my brothers in the Order of St. Anthony passed along this superb description of the BCP from one of his professors: a reordering of Scripture for the purpose of spiritual formation and public worship. The content of the daily office is almost entirely scripture (from Psalms especially) and I think we tend to forget the fact that the book of Psalms was and is a prayer book for the people of God! Jesus and Peter and John would have prayed written prayers from the Psalms. Did they pray spontaneous, original prayers? Sure! But those would have almost certainly been in addition to the “prayer script” God’s people had been using for centuries. The practice of the daily office – one in the morning and another in the evening – keeps me tied into that powerful flow of God’s people. The daily office gives my days rhythm. The daily office gives me prayers that are bigger than me and my needs or imaginations. The daily office helps me remember that the Bible is primarily a prayer/song/story/poetry book, not an encyclopedia/manual. The daily office forces me to be sensitive to my inclinations toward rote-ness (“phoning it in” is just as probable in extemporaneous prayer, but harder to notice). The daily office has exposed and now attacks my A.D.D. with ferocity. The daily office weans me off of my addiction to superficial stimuli. The daily office keeps me immersed in the Christian calendar and consequently, has made the feasts of the Church that much more meaningful. The daily office connects me each day to hundreds of thousands (millions?) of other Christians around the globe who are praying these same words with me.
Despite its Anglican origins, the Book of Common Prayer is one of the treasures of the Church catholic. “Assembled” by Thomas Cranmer in 1549 (and revised several times since), this book is not only significant from an ecclesial perspective, but it is one of the triumphs of English literature, along with the King James Bible and the collected works of Shakespeare. Most of us repeated its words in our marriage ceremonies. Its liturgies for the Eucharist and its list of prayers are truly a gift to the Church and the world!
Infamously, the BCP is not intuitive or user-friendly, especially re: the daily office. Bishop Ed Gungor has an excellent “intensive” that can be viewed over at the Sanctuary website (click here). We’re hoping to offer a more concise “how to” video in the next few weeks through the Salem Tabernacle website. AND…for the month of January, we’ll be doing the morning office at our weekly prayer meeting, The :30. My hope is that our church will embrace the spiritual “gold” that is to be found in the BCP and the practice of the daily office, that it can ground us in such a way that our spontaneous, “Spirit-prayers” are more transformational then ever!
Grace & Peace