Archive for November, 2011

Saying our prayers, part V – praying in community

(Today I’m adding to a series of posts on the ancient Christian practice of praying the daily office – here are links to part I, part II, part III, and part IV).

The ancient practice of praying the daily office was radically ahead of its time, anticipating the transient, mobile world we now inhabit.

The practice of communal prayer happened mostly through Sunday worship and often in a mid-week prayer meeting.  The mid-week practice is largely rusting away, largely a victim of a variety of factors, certainly including our highly mobile lives.  We’re less local, less quick to cross town to get to that location for a prayer meeting (and isn’t part of the reluctance to publicly pray with others our discomfort about doing something rather personal and intimate with others around, a performance anxiety of sorts). And so the good practice of praying in community suffers a setback.

But here’s the genius of praying the daily office, the “slightly ahead of its time” element.  Praying the daily office is a way to “be together when you’re not together,” perfect for a virtual, highly mobile society (and it provides an accessible way to pray with others for all those who are really uncomfortable doing that in the same room).  When you pray a daily office, you do so on your own.  But then think of this: if others are praying the same prayers, in a beautiful way you are connected to a praying community that transcends space and time.

I recently spoke with a friend who told me that his wife was using Seeking God’s Face as a way of staying connected with God and her far-flung group of friends.  Her circle of friends spans several North American time zones and so they decided to pray the book together as a way of “being together when we’re not together.”

This was one of the dreams I imagined as I wrote and compiled the book – people gathered in prayer, not necessarily in the same room but together over the same scriptures, united in saying the same prayers, together forming one community of prayer.  I know of several churches who are making this a community-wide practice, groups of friends, clusters of missional leaders, or even denominational boards who are finding themselves together in prayer through the daily office.  I’d love to link all these groups together to let them know they are connected in a wider community of prayer.

Who knew that this ancient practice of prayer could provide such a meaningful contemporary venue of unity and community so needed in a mobile, transient world.  A community of faith in constant prayer – together in prayer, when we’re not together in person.

So let me invite you to join in this community of prayer for the season of Advent (which begins this Sunday).  You can check out the Seeking God’s Face page on Facebook, where the publisher will be posting daily excerpts from the book – you can find the Facebook page here.  Or better yet, pick up a copy for yourself.  There’s a crazy good sale going on right now at Faith Alive – and free shipping to boot. (and if you think this is an author’s crass, brazen, consumeristic self-promotion, check out this blog post by another author on the realities of book publishing and author royalties).

One of the church communities using Seeking God’s Face as a communal spiritual practice is New Hope Church in Calgary, AB. Earlier this year, one of their pastors, Heather Cowie, talked about praying the daily office and, specifically, using Seeking God’s Face as a church-wide spiritual practice – you can watch it below.

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Friday photos – the feast of community

This image reflects the deep desire in my heart for community.  Technically, it’s not a very good picture but as an icon, a window into something more, I think it’s heart-achingly beautiful.   Friends gathered around a table, enjoying a simple but delicious meal, fed by the food and conversation, hearts gladdened by the wine and the company – with God, the gracious host, among us all.  It’s a picture of the heaven we’re made and meant for, a sampling of God’s goodness we can enjoy and share with others today.

For all my friends and family south of the border, I hope you had ample helpings of this taste of heaven in your Thanksgiving festivities.  For the rest of us, my prayer is that you’ll savour the same over a cup of coffee with friends or dinner with family.

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An anthem for Black Friday – reprise

Just had this piece posted on the CRC Network site so figured I’d repost an edited version of it here today.

Today is Black Friday south of the 49th, the biggest consumer bender known to humanity.  Called black because merchants’ books finally crossover from the red into the black, it’s an apt adjective for other reasons.  And it would be so easy to watch the spree and smugly gloat, believing I’m free from that, above it all.  Truth is, what separates me from a Black Friday binge is merely opportunity.

In the past year, since stepping down as Sr. Pastor at River Park Church and stepping into a time of pared down living, I’ve spent a fair bit of time simply scraping away the accumulated clutter of life.  I find myself surprised, wondering where all this stuff came from? I’m developing a theory about the reproductive capacities of inert material things, certain that my books, the children’s toys, electronics and clothes are all mating with each other, my desk drawers, filing cabinets and closets their dimly lit breeding grounds, with Barry White playing somewhere in the background.

I’d happily settle for that convenient explanation but the uglier truth hitting home is that for all this stuff, I saw it, I desired it, I justified its importance to my life, I had to have it, I pursued it, and in the end, I bought it.  Here’s an illustrative event, the moment a box of books (my drug) arrives from Amazon (my dealer) – the immediate hit is like a drug entering the bloodstream; I’m flush with excitement, feeling a boosted sense of identity (just having “that” book or clothing item/gadget/outdoor gear/music/artwork/whatever makes me feel smarter and savvy, well-read and in-touch, manly and spiritual).  And yet the same unbelievably boring cycle repeats itself, that in weeks, if not days, the gleam is gone and whatever it was I saw and wanted now becomes what it really is – stuff that clutters my life, needs to be maintained and cared for, and gets stored away somewhere, forgotten, stumbled upon, then hauled off and either sold, recycled or tossed.

I’m struck scared by how deep the demon is in me (the evidence is strewn all about me), how my life has been discipled into this consumer way of living without me really seeing it happen at all.  Consumerism has become an alternative but dominant religion in our world, hawking meaning, identity and purpose for our lives.  Count up all the time, energy, and hope, let alone money, that get invested in researching, ogling, desiring, pursuing, purchasing, enjoying and acquiring stuff – then tell me how free you are from this thing.

Arguably, the problem is not the stuff itself, it’s the wantings.  It’s your heart, my heart sick with desire, the wanting for something that an Ipad, sweater, new house or Chia-pet will never fill.  Something has us and how we need healing.

Which brings me to needed beauty, a shot-to-the-heart song of confession from the Avett Brothers.  If you’ve never heard of them, Seth and Scott Avett are two Jesus looking dudes with raw, beautiful music that heals and brings life.  They blew me away two summers ago in a fantastic festival show, and now they’re on repeat in our Ipod at home.  And I can’t think of a better anthem for Black Friday than Ill with Want.

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Friday photo

I was leading a retreat in the foothills west of Calgary this weekend. The temperature dipped near minus 20 last night (and its not even winter yet!) but sugar-coated the landscape with some wonderful frost.

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The road ahead

Betty and I have been involved in a discernment process about the next chapter of our lives for far too long.  It’s been a humbling, trying process and I’m ready for it to be done.  Earlier today I read this quote from Thomas Merton that echoed the messy mix in my soul, of head and heart, desire and reason, confusion and conviction, ending in a hard-learned trust in God’s goodness.

My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going.  I do not see the road ahead of me.  I cannot know for certain where it will end.  Nor do  I really know myself.  And the fact that I am following your will does not mean I am actually doing so.  But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you.  And I hope I have that desire in everything I am doing.  I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire and I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it.  Therefore, I will trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.  I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.

Thomas Merton, Thoughts in Solitude.

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