Archive for January, 2011
Recently received notice of two great reviews of Seeking God’s Face. One is from a blogger Pastor Ray McCalla who blogs at Sinaiticus. You can read the review here.
The other review came via an email from Christopher Webb, the President of Renovare, an organization founded by Richard Foster committed to spiritual formation.
In an Amazon.com book review that Chris told me about, he wrote this:
This is one of the best resources for anyone looking to explore the ancient Christian tradition of daily prayer (sometimes known as the Daily Office). Most prayer books are either dauntingly complex (for example, the four volumes of the Roman Catholic Liturgy of the Hours) or overly simplified. The latter are great for a brief while, but don’t give enough variation and depth to keep you engaged in the long term.
“Seeking God’s Face” hits the perfect midpoint. Philip Reinders, the editor, has done a terrific job of presenting prayer that follows the rich variety of the church year – the seasons of Advent, Christmas, Lent, Easter and so on – in an accessible and easy-to-use format.
Perhaps the greatest single bit of genius in the book is the little sidebars on each page giving dates to guide you through the church year until the end of 2026. You could pray this book for fifteen years without ever having to know anything more than today’s date. Anyone who’s ever used a prayer book will know what a boon this is!
Each day’s prayer is split into seven sections: (i) Invitation – a short introductory verse; (ii) Bible Song – a section from one of the Psalms; (iii) Bible Reading – just what it says; (iv) Dwelling – an encouragement to richer engagement with the reading; (v) Free Prayer – three possible prayer themes to stimulate your own prayer; (vi) Prayer – a short prayer (see below on this); and (vii) Blessing – another brief Bible verse.
The whole book is great, but the Prayer for each day – section vi, which in liturgical tradition would be called the Collect – deserves special mention. Reinders,a Reformed pastor, has mined six of the great Reformed statements of faith such as the Canons of Dort or the Westminster Confession and turned their somewhat dry formulae (at least, they seem that way to me!) into beautiful and poetic prayers. I just opened the book at random, and here’s an example from the page I found (205):
“God of glory, for centuries there were flickers of it in the ceremonies and symbols of the law, sparks of it in prophetic words. I thank you that all this foreshadowing is eclipsed in the brilliance of Jesus, my glorious Savior. Amen.”
The abbreviated note after the prayer, BC 25, tells us that this prayer is based on Article 25 of the Belgic Confession. In case you don’t have your copy of BC to hand (grin!), I googled it for you:
“We believe that the ceremonies and symbols of the law have ended with the coming of Christ, and that all foreshadowings have come to an end, so that the use of them ought to be abolished among Christians. Yet the truth and substance of these things remain for us in Jesus Christ, in whom they have been fulfilled. Nevertheless, we continue to use the witnesses drawn from the law and prophets to confirm us in the gospel and to regulate our lives with full integrity for the glory of God, according to his will.”
You can see how the prayer comes from the Confession – but, at least for this Anglican who doesn’t find the language of the Reformed confessions all that inspiring, I’ll take the prayer any day of the week.
All in all, a lovely book. I really can’t find anything about it I don’t like; even the engraved leather-like cover is attractive and a pleasure to hold, and that’s alA ways nice in a book you’re handling daily. This isn’t a book for the hard-core Office freaks; you won’t find a seven-fold monastic office here. But for a new Christian, or a beginner at Daily Prayer, or someone who needs a simple but rich Office to pray, or for a community of folks who pray together daily, this could well be ideal. I spent around fifteen years working in Anglican parishes, and I wish this book had been available then. I would’ve bought one for every parishioner…
I recently penned an article for The Banner, the magazine of my church tribe, the Christian Reformed Church, published in the latest edition. The Banner is a good rag with thoughtful pieces that engage and inform – do yourself a favour and give it a look. They’ve just completed an entire reworking of their website, which looks good and it’s linked well.
The article – surprise, surprise – is on the practice of praying the daily office. You can check out my article, “Discipleship: saying our prayers,” and the rest of the magazine here.
Do your own prayers bore even you? More often than I care to be honest about, I’ve noticed what absolutely lame and inane prayers I offer up to God, finding myself babbling who-knows-what with my head and heart miles away.
It feels like my prayers mostly swim in the shallow end of the God pool. I’m learning that using words and prayers not my own is entering the deep end. God becomes bigger than my own limited experience of him; I share in something so much richer and deeper that I might never have known if I stuck to only my own emotions and experience of God.
One of the unique, and oftentimes unsettling, features of praying a daily office is that you pray mostly with the words of someone else. Scripture is given; prayers are written. In the prayer book I wrote and compiled, Seeking God’s Face, I’ve used the words of the church’s confessions and creeds to shape the prayers. While there is some room for free prayer, most of the words are already provided.
Which means you enter into a deep, big community experience of God. Praying the office is really a unique community experience where you join a chorus of voices praying to God. But there’s something in us that often reacts to this way of praying, thinking it can only lead to mindless ritual. But think again for a moment. Could it be that we today are slaves to self-expression? Could it be that we’ve idolized personal originality and expression and cannot fathom the deep offense of denying the world and God of our original personality? Don’t we need to find the room to give full and honest expression to all that is true of me? Well, maybe, but then prayer really becomes all about me then, doesn’t it. So who is prayer for anyway?
The wisdom of practicing praying the daily office is that it weans us off of this narcissistic spirituality and focuses us squarely on God. Robert Benson, a fine writer who has written about praying the daily office, notes: “There is something to be said for listening to something other than our own sweet selves, something to be said for having to find and be found by God inside the words of prayer and worship that have been offered up by God’s own for centuries.” (In Constant Prayer).
Imagine the beauty of this – when you pray the daily office, you’re part of a wide community of people enjoying God together. Even though you might be praying on your own, you’re never alone. By saying the same words you’re sharing in a long and wide community that’s loving God together, swimming in a deeper experience of God than you could’ve found by yourself.
What a difference a week makes! Last week this time I kicking back on the deck of a ship cruising the Caribbean; today I’m looking out on a snowy landscape with a stubborn minus 20 C temperature warning me to stay inside. I’m posting these photos if only to warm myself up with a few memories.
Happy new year all. It’s been a while since I’ve last blogged – I’ve been enjoying a trip to the southern US way too much. Even though Florida was on the cooler side (for Florida but downright balmy compared to Calgary), it was great simply to be able to walk outside without having to layer up.
I mentioned in an earlier post that I was part of two episodes of a TV program, The Bridge, talking about praying the office and focusing on some of the other spiritual practices. After the Christmas break they were able to get up online the second of the shows. You can check out the two episodes here (click on episode 82 and 83).