Why do we pray scripted prayers?

daily prayer book cover

Last week we handed out a simplified version of our Anglican Book of Common Prayer called Praying through the Year. We’ve loved hearing the ways many of you are integrating this booklet into your daily life. We will have more copies of this resource available on Sunday in the narthex, and we’d love for you to take one home.

But some of you may wonder why we use scripted prayers at all. Why not pray from our thoughts and feelings and impressions? Isn’t scripted prayer needlessly rigid and archaic? Two responses come to mind.

The first response is that both modes of prayer are great and have their place in our lives. In fact, The Book of Common Prayer always leaves space for “free intercessions” in its liturgies, a place for the extemporaneous prayer to which many of us are accustomed. Using scripted prayers doesn’t replace unscripted prayers or all the wonderful, surprising ways the Holy Spirit shows up in them. Instead, it complements them, rooting them in the words of Scripture and of Christians who have prayed before us through the ages.

The second response, though, is a story from my own experience. A little over a decade ago, I nearly abandoned my faith. I was consumed by doubts I couldn’t reconcile; I was tired of Christians whose lives were squeaky clean but who cared little about justice and mercy; and I was crowding God out of my life by pouring myself into a career that tempted me with moral compromises. For over a year, I didn’t read scripture and I didn’t pray. And I didn’t care. I told God that I barely believed this stuff anymore, but that if it was true, he was going to need to convince me himself.

And he did. Late one night, I was anxious and sleepless and found myself really wanting to cry out to God, but I realized that I’d forgotten how. A phrase from the Sunday liturgy popped into my brain: “whose property is always to have mercy” (we now use the words, “who always delights in showing mercy”). That seemed as good a prayer as any, so I simply prayed it, over and over, to God: “Your property is always to have mercy. Your property is always to have mercy.” As I did, I realized that if God’s property is always to have mercy, then he had mercy for me in that moment, and in every faithless, cynical moment that had preceded it.

That sustaining thought carried me through a long night of anxiety to the morning. And it carried me through the next night, and the next. It marked the beginning of my returning to God, re-discovering that ‘the stories are true,’ and re-learning how to pray. It also marked the beginning of my use of The Book of Common Prayer as a regular part of my prayer life.

For someone like me, who easily lives inside my thoughts, the pressure to manufacture extemporaneous prayers can feel like a chore and a performance. And when I’m tired or uninspired or consumed with doubts, it’s barely possible. Instead, I found a liberating self-forgetfulness in The Book of Common Prayer, as I began to lean on the words and faith of the millions of Christians who had gone before me, who had prayed these prayers for centuries to sustain their faith. One of the gifts of being Anglican has been discovering this weird and wonderful fellowship with Christians throughout time and space whose prayers support my own.

These days, I do both: I pray scripted prayers in a more-or-less regular rhythm, and I pray extemporaneous prayers that vary from the transcendent to the absurd (“help me find a parking spot, Jesus!”). I think both kinds of prayer delight God, both draw me into a pattern of daily dependence and closer relationship, and both connect me to a global community of other praying Christians.

This Advent, we’d love for you to join us in adding scripted prayer to your daily rhythms. Pick up Praying Through the Year on Sunday!

Common Prayer…Simplified

advent table

Hey Restos! It’s me again, that woman who can’t seem to make it to church on time and talks an awful lot about toast. I was overwhelmed by the response to my recent blog about running late for church. So many of you reached out and shared stories of how you, like me, are hungry for the feast that God is offering us, but can’t quite figure out how to show up for it. To everyone who kindly commented or emailed me: thanks. I’m so glad we’re in this together.

And one of the ways that we are really, truly, profoundly in this together is through prayer. I love that we are a community that prays, and I know that many of us are constantly longing to grow in our habits of prayer. As Anglicans, we have a rich prayer resource in the Book of Common Prayer, a centuries-old book crammed full of scripture, statements of faith, and prayers. We hold these prayers in “common” with one another at Restoration, and with other Christians all over the world and throughout history. And these prayers are “common” in another sense: with practice, they become commonplace rhythms that shape our everyday lives. But what does that practice look like? How do we engage with our prayer book in a way that is life-giving and doable, when the book itself seems so complicated and intimidating?

Restoration has created two resources to help. The first is a RestoKids Advent daily devotional called Almost…Not Yet…Already…Soon. It’s full of space to doodle, simple explanations of this season of waiting, and peaceful invitations to enjoy God’s presence with us through prayer, scripture, stillness, and creativity. If you live in a house with kids, or if you’d like to approach God in a kid-like way this season, we would love for you to take one home on Sunday.

The second resource is a simplified version of the Book of Common Prayer called Praying through the Year, which takes you through the entire Christian year, beginning in Advent 2017 and ending just before Advent 2018. Each season contains short prayer guides for morning, noon, evening, and compline (bedtime), as well as daily daily prayer book coverreading plans and helpful prayers for a variety of circumstances. It includes explanations of the liturgical seasons and guidance on how to use the prayers. Everything in this book is taken straight from our Anglican Book of Common Prayer, but the confusing elements have been removed and the order has been rearranged to facilitate easy daily use. This book can be used alone or with others, around your breakfast table, at your desk, or on your nightstand — however works best to make these ancient prayer rhythms more “common” in your daily life.

If you have young kids at home, you may want to set aside this longer prayer book during Advent, and use our RestoKids devotional instead (they actually contain a lot of similar language!). Then, as Advent concludes and you find you want to continue the simple daily rhythms, pick up the prayer book again and adjust the daily prayer times in whatever way works best for your family. When my own children were young, we used these same liturgies around our breakfast table. We’d light a candle, get out paper and markers, and I’d read just a few fragments from morning prayer while they colored. Over time, my kids naturally absorbed a lot of scripture and theology (as did I!). But what works in my house might not work in yours, and that’s okay. This Advent, we would love for everyone to engage with these resources and find what works best in their own context, so that we can practice praying in common as a Resto community. We invite you to pick up one or both prayer guides this Sunday!

Incarnation Anglican: The Tiny Way

2017-09-07 21.14.58My family lives along Columbia Pike in South Arlington. When I walk to CVS, I hear dozens of languages being spoken and see women in burqas, men in shalwar kameez, and little girls with shaved heads.  When I take my kids to the playground after dinner, I find myself talking to parents from Afghanistan, Bolivia, Bangladesh, and Eritrea. I watch dads playing pick-up soccer games in empty lots, cheered on by their kids. I chat with lifelong South Arlingtonians who are proud of this area’s history and are uncertain about its future. I can buy fresh injera with my Big Gulp from the 7-Eleven on the corner. On Fridays, I watch women in headscarves stream through the neighborhood, pushing their strollers toward one of South Arlington’s three mosques (one Bangladeshi, one Somali, one Moroccan).

Though it’s just a few miles from Restoration, my neighborhood can feel like a different world. And yet, just like Restoration’s neighborhood, it is full of people who are struggling to make life work in an expensive suburb of DC; people who are lonely and longing for friendships; people who want the best for their kids; people who are spiritually hungry and curious about Jesus. And thus, Restoration is planting a new church community among my neighbors called Incarnation Anglican Church, and I’m humbled and excited to join Liz Gray and Morgan Reed in this work.

I love this neighborhood. My husband and I have always dreamed of living cross-culturally.  My children are flexible and adventurous and can roll with the occasional late night playing by streetlight with neighbors. Our neighborhood suits us. But it also keeps us perpetually off-kilter. I often find myself the only native English speaker or the only white person in a given place. I encounter mental illness on the street corner. I engage in awkward, broken conversations and I laugh too loudly at things I’m not entirely certain are jokes. Artisanal coffee is nowhere in sight, though I dare you to find a better salteña.

This place stretches me. Its unfamiliarity reminds me in a tiny way what it is to feel not quite at home, even in my own neighborhood, language, and skin; something many of my neighbors feel every day.  As such, I have made it a sort of spiritual discipline to walk places I would normally drive; to talk to people I would normally avoid; to cross the street when I feel like hiding in my house; and to shop in places where I frequently misread the cultural cues. It is a tiny way of laying down my cultural competency and my comfort so that I can learn more fully what it means to love my neighbor, to listen and observe and wait and be dependent. And goodness, it drives me to prayer like nothing else.

It is these tiny, daily acts in my neighborhood that make me most excited about what Incarnation could become. What would it look like to form a community willing to engage in small acts of discomfort so that we can love our neighbors better? What would it look like to worship with people who keep each other perpetually off-kilter? What would it look like to form a community in which the only shared culture is that of the kingdom of God? How can our tiny, slow, awkward work of sharing Jesus with our neighbors lead us deeper into worship, deeper in dependence on the Spirit, deeper into the reality of the upside-down kingdom? I am watching God slowly begin to answer those questions in my neighborhood. In the meantime, I’ll keep laughing at the wrong moments and eating salteñas with abandon.

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Want to hear more about Incarnation? Email me, Morgan, or Liz. We’d love to grab a cup of coffee and chat!

liz@incarnationanglican.org

morgan@incarnationanglican.org

amy@incarnationanglican.org

 

 

 

Confessions of a Chronic Latecomer

cinnamon-toast-horiz-a-1800

Last week my family was nearly 30 minutes late to church. 30 minutes! We snuck into a pew near the back mid-sermon, and over the next 10 minutes, the empty spaces around us filled up with other latecomers. After the service, over iced coffee and shouting children downstairs, we laughed and poked fun at ourselves and swapped stories of extreme Sunday lateness.

It’s hard to get out the door on a Sunday. My children habitually misplace shoes (and socks, and jeggings, and most importantly, capes). We run out of cereal and thus have to prepare  impossibly complicated and time-consuming breakfasts such as toast. My children suddenly remember they despise toast and collapse in a heap of uncooperative, hangry ennui. We have four people, two of whom are fastidious (read: slow) tooth-brushers, sharing one small bathroom. And without fail, my children realize they urgently need to use said bathroom just as we’re walking out the door. We try to account for the inevitable morning delays, but still, we run late. Often. And honestly? I don’t really even feel bad about it.

Why not? First, because Restoration is a community of genuine grace, a very un-DC-like place were I don’t have to perform or appear perfect or, you know, show up on time. It’s freeing to know I can slide into the pew 15 minutes late and be welcomed wholeheartedly, not shamed or penalized. This atmosphere of grace is why we go to Restoration, and I love it.

Second, I am Sabbath-starved. I am hard-wired for a day of rest, and by the end of the week I’m aching for it. Sunday often feels like the first opportunity to really rest, and I find myself sleeping a little later and moving a little more slowly to revel in the relaxed pace. I could be quicker, more intentional, hustle a bit more to get out the door, but I don’t. On Sundays, I just want to slow down. And I’m okay with that.

But this issue of lateness has been on my mind all week. Because as I was laughing with my fellow latecomers over iced coffee last Sunday, I joked that I wasn’t even sure what happened at the beginning of the service. Let me rephrase that: I’m a church planter and postulant for ordination and I don’t know what happens at the beginning of an Anglican service, because I’ve so rarely made it to church on time. Yeah.

So I looked it up. Guess what happens at the beginning of our service each week? So many beautiful things! Quiet contemplation in the sanctuary before it fills up. A joyful acclamation of blessing. A prayer that our hearts would be open to a God who sees and knows us. A reminder straight from Jesus to love God and our neighbor. A repeated plea for the mercy of God. All of that before we ever sing a note!

***

Every day, I manage to get to school, work, soccer practice, coffee dates, and other events on time. The challenges to doing so are no different from those I face on Sunday. Yet I account for them in my planning so that I can be punctual. I care about performing well, respecting those who depend on me, and avoiding the shame, stress, and inconvenience of running late. As I mentioned above, these motivators don’t work as well for me when it comes to church, where I don’t feel the same pressures.

But what if I were motivated not by pressures and fears, but by a deep hunger for God and for the fullness of corporate worship offered to me on Sunday mornings? What if I entrusted my Sabbath-starved soul to God as the source of true rest, a rest that refreshes far more deeply than shuffling around lazily in my pajamas for a few extra minutes? What if there is a feast that God is lovingly preparing for me in the liturgy every single week, and I’m missing the first course? (Which, I am certain, is better than toast.)

And so, for the next month of Sundays, I’m going to try arriving on time. I may not succeed, and that’s okay; remember that trademark Resto grace I described earlier? But I’m going to try. And in the meantime, I’m going to print this prayer from the beginning of the service and keep it in my car, so that if I’m not physically in church to say it, at least it gets said while en route.

Collect for Purity

Almighty God, to you all hearts are open, all desires known, and from you no secrets are hid: Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love you, and worthily magnify your holy Name; through Christ our Lord. Amen.

If you’re a chronic latecomer like me, maybe you’d like to join me in making this small Sunday shift, just for a month. I can’t promise it will be easy, but I know it’ll better than toast.

– Amy Rowe

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