As a cradle Episcopalian, I am, from time to time, awakened by our liturgy in surprising ways. I grew-up at a time when, at least in my home parish, Morning Prayer was the customary service on most Sunday mornings with Holy Communion at least one Sunday a month. The Book of Common Prayer was the 1928 model. It was not until after high school when the 1979 Book of Common Prayer became the authorized Prayer Book and the Eucharist the principle service on Sunday mornings. It is true, even for a late teen and early twenty year old, adjusting to the 79 Prayer Book was a challenge. Now years later, and ordained, I find myself occasionally perusing historical prayer books looking for something specific, and I am thankful for the most recent revision.
While in seminary, chapel was considered mandatory, as it should be, and Morning Prayer was once again the norm. I recall a classmate asking a professor, why it was important to attend chapel now that General Ordination Exams were over. We were pre-occupied with communicating with our bishops and Commissions on Ministry about placements and callings after seminary, as well as, Morning Prayer had become somewhat boring by this time. The professor’s replied something like this, “It is supposed to be. The routine habit of Morning Prayer provides a foundation of prayer you can follow daily whether or not you have a prayer book. Wherever you are, you are able to acknowledge God’s presence, give confession, ask for forgiveness, pray the prayer of absolution, pray for the Church, prayer for the world, pray for those in any need or trouble, pray for the Church’s mission, and finish in giving thanks to God through Christ, all parts of morning prayer.”
Through the years I have adopted and abandoned the routine of Morning Prayer over and over again as part of my daily routine, but that is not to say my morning prayers were abandoned. The point of this is, I am very familiar with Morning Prayer and sometimes wrongfully feel too familiar. It is in these too familiar times I discover I’m not as familiar as I should be.
For summer this year I changed the service a little bit using Morning Prayer for the Liturgy of the Word with Holy Eucharist. The first Sunday was a matter of adjusting to the change and rhythm of the service as the officiant and celebrant. This first Sunday, I found that the changed format occupied my mind rather than having a prayer-filled heart.
But something happened as life experiences collided with the prayers between the Second and Third Sundays of Pentecost. You see, I had taken a journey to Las Cruces, NM with 12 other people, some were pastors, some were concerned citizens of non-profit organization, a member of the city council, and the Managing Editor of the Roswell Daily Record. The purpose of the trip was to tour the City of Las Cruces’ response to homelessness, health care, hunger through the campus of ‘Community of Hope.”
As the second Sunday service progressed I was also reminded of the ministry provided to the homeless in Roswell when several people from the community and the parish cleaned up the riverbed where several homeless camp. Through the organization and leadership of Jeneva Martinez, cleaning up the riverbed gave the residents of the camp a choice and opportunity to stay rather than be dispersed throughout the city or face going to jail. Their choice was either clean-up, go away, or go to jail. Not only did people come to residents’ aid but they also persuaded the City of Roswell to allow them to continue to camp there.
At the threshold of organizing the riverbed clean-up I was poked by the Holy Spirit to ask Jeneva to speak about her story and how she was called to be an advocate for the homeless on Sunday, June 5th. That Sunday Jeneva shared her story of how and where she heard her call to be an advocate for the homeless. I felt myself awaken to the prayers in Morning Prayer that call us to do more than just remember those less fortunate with a push or even a shove to respond. How I was reminded again and again that I have so much and so many have so little, nearly nothing.
Prayers fell upon me like a rush of wind and fire with these words taking on a new awakening:
· “…contrite and humble spirit…”
· “…and to ask, for ourselves and on behalf of others, those things that are necessary for life…’
· ‘…confess our sins, that we may obtain forgiveness…’
· ‘We have not loved our neighbors…’
· ‘…our mouth shall proclaim your praise.’
· ‘…he himself has made us, and we are his;…’
· ‘…forgive us our trespasses…’
· ‘…lead us not into temptation…’
· ‘Give peace, O Lord, in all the world…’
· ‘Let not the needy, O Lord, be forgotten;
· Nor the hope of the poor be taken away.
· Create in us clean hearts…
· The gladness of this time in our weekly remembrance.
· Turning the shadow of death into morning.
· To drive away wrong desires, incline our hearts to keep your law, and gude our feet into the way of peace.
Of course there are more prayers and canticles that draw us to this place where life’s experiences, meanings and thanksgivings reside, yet we are also reminded that we too can be the enemies as others struggle. Thank God for forgiveness and a change of how we see the world around us. Allow morning prayers to awaken your hope for others.