Saturday, May 28, 2011

Starting Again?

It's been over two years since I wrote anything for this blog; it's kind of amazing I even remembered the password!

So, why am I here? What brings me back?

I have gotten into a fairly regular discipline of keeping the "Daily Office," the practice of setting aside regular times for prayer and contemplation, using the liturgies and lectionary (a two-year cycle of daily Bible readings) of The Book of Common Prayer (BCP) of The Episcopal Church. It's a tradition that has its origins in the monastic life of the ancient church, also known as the "liturgy of the hours."

Of course, the monks said prayers about every three hours, beginning at midnight with matins, then at 3 a.m. with lauds, 6 a.m. for prime, 9 a.m. for terce, noon for sext, 3 p.m. for none, 6 p.m. for vespers and concluding at 9 p.m. for compline. Obviously this is not really practical in the context of a modern, secular life, but the BCP simplifies and consolidates it into Morning Prayer, Noontime Prayer (which is very brief), Evening Prayer and Compline.

Often, given the realities of daily life, I only manage to fit in one session, usually Evening Prayer, because that seems to be the time of day I feel at my most contemplative, and as I grow older I'm less and less of a "morning person." It is a rare day when I don't get around to it at all, and I make it a point to keep Morning and Evening Prayer and Compline (right before bedtime) during Advent and Lent.

Why do I do this?

There are many reasons, actually, and it's kind of hard to articulate some of them. For one thing, I have just fallen in love with liturgy; it appeals to my passion for structure, and I feel a deep resonance with the wisdom of the ancient church. I love that I open to the lectionary pages at the back and see, "Okay, here are the psalms appointed for this morning, and here are the lessons." I like that the lectionary forces me to read parts of the Bible I might otherwise ignore, and I like the way it is organized thematically by the seasons of the church year. I like that there's even a recommended schedule for canticles ("songs" or poems from scripture, especially Isaiah, Revelation and Luke) that are said or sung or chanted after the lessons. Thursday evening? Okay, the canticle after Old Testament lesson is the Surge illuminare. (And yeah, I like that canticles and psalms are still often identified by their Latin titles.) Sunday morning? The Benedictus Dominus...unless it's Lent, in which case it's the Kyrie Pantokrator, or Easter, when it's the Cantemus domino. I like these "rules" -- I like in such and such a season, you "must" do or say this, or in such and such a season, you "must" not.

I put "must" in quotes because I'm not under any illusion that God gives a flying one if we say "alleluia" during Lent. Still, I believe that the Holy Spirit has spoken powerfully to the church over the centuries, inspiring the development of these practices, and that following them carefully teaches us many important things that God wants us to know.

I've even created my own rules to complicate things further; at certain times I light candles and burn incense; at other times, I do not. Some days I use recordings I have collected of the psalms, canticles and ancient chants of the church; some days I do not. Most of the time I just read the Office, but sometimes I chant the whole thing, and sometimes I read it silently. Sometimes it's hard to concentrate (especially on those "silent" days), sometimes I don't feel like chanting, sometimes my mind wanders somewhere very far afield while listening to a hymn...and sometimes the experience is completely transcendent. The lectionary has this effect on me, too: some passages I read and think, "Oh, that's nice," and sometimes my honest reaction is, "What the fuck?" (You have to be honest with God, and frankly, putting the Bible down in exasperation and saying in a loud voice, "WHAT???!?!?" is a good discipline.) And still other times, I am amazed that the given passage for the day seems to speak directly to present matters; sometimes I am reassured and comforted, sometimes I am inspired, and sometimes severely chastised. This is what keeps me coming back, those hoped for but often unanticipated moments of wonder and illumination. In a way I am glad they only happen occasionally, because otherwise they might not be so special. One has to keep that in mind on the days when keeping the Office feels like a chore.

OK. So...why go back to the blog?

Well, the Office should be the means to an end (prayer), not the end itself. It should help you get started in this conversation with God. There are many beautiful prayers in the BCP: thumb through the collects or the list in the back and be reminded of all the many things we can and should be praying for, articulated in language that is more eloquent than most of us could hope to come up with. And yet, too often, I let the BCP speak for me. Too often I search the pages for a prayer that seems to encapsulate what I'm trying to say. Now, that's not all bad; in fact, that's what it's for. But at the same time, I feel a need to work harder to discern what I need to say to God and, thereby, open myself to what God has to say back.

I also want to go deeper into my contemplation of scripture. I want to force myself to address those "wtf" passages and see if I can't find something there; I want to explore the things that leap off the page and excite me.

What I am not here to do is "preach." This isn't a sermon blog, though perhaps it will sometimes read that way. My goal here is not to tell you what you should be praying for, or what a passage of scripture should mean for you. It won't help me much to be reading the Bible in the light of what I imagine you need to hear.

So why blog? Why not just keep a private journal?

Well, again: discipline. Writing for an "audience" will force me to be as concise and accurate in my meditations as possible, and will discourage intellectual laziness (I hope). I want to be open, also, to the opportunity for various readers, such as may exist, to share their own insights or offer suggestions for alternative understandings. And maybe I can form a sort of online "monastic community," where a few of us can share our meditations together, and pray for each other.

This will be a different way of blogging for me. I won't be posting much about things going on in my life, except from a spiritual perspective. I think Facebook takes care of that particular need now. I also will not be focusing on politics; I think our political culture today is positively toxic, and it is physically unhealthy for me to spend much energy there. However, I may be unable to resist the temptation to address certain political events or questions as they arise in the context of spiritual contemplation, especially in the case of political figures who play the Bible card to advance an un-Biblical argument.

I used to have a nice core of regular readers; I imagine they are all gone now. I've probably been deleted from their blogrolls and RSS feeds due to my inactivity, and that's okay. If any of you happen to still be around, say "Hi." : )


Elizabeth said...

Well, what a surprise! Hi. Funny, it's also been a little over two years since I left my husband, and just a little before that is when I realized I'm a lesbian. Surprise! No one more surprised than me. I have to say, I did think of you sometimes during this very difficult process. So, thanks for the small part you played in helping me normalize.

I'm glad you're back. :-) I haven't blogged in sooooo long. Too busy with the other new things I'm up to.

Andy said...

Holy cow! I really didn't expect anyone was still "lurking" out there. How nice to hear from you! Life is funny, isn't it...?

Jeff said...

Welcome back! You've stayed in my RSS feed, and I was surprised to see some new posts from you show up this morning. I'm not on Facebook too much, so it's nice to experience your voice again.

Elizabeth said...

Life IS funny. Just have to laugh incredulously sometimes!

You were still on my google reader, though I have headed over once in awhile to see if there was something I missed.

. said...

Hey Andy,

It made me smile to see your blog pop up in my reader. I hope you are well.


Andy said...

Hey all! So nice to hear from you! Hope you are having a great holiday weekend!

Jess said...

What a nice treat to see you've started blogging again. While the subject of this first post upon your return is foreign to my daily life, I still found it to be interesting reading, as I've often found the depth of your spirituality to be quite interesting and enlightening.

The part where you spoke about having a WTF? reaction to a passage resonates with my religious background. As you'll recall, I'm not very religious, but my Jewish upbringing included occasionally looking to God to question Him. As a people, we tend to do such things. And I think that makes sense. He gave us intellects, so we can ask questions and gain depth to our thoughts.

BTW, when I first read, "beginning at midnight with matins," I thought it said, "beginning at midnight with martinis." I guess I'm still a little jet-lagged from our trip! ;)

Glad to see you blogging again, my friend!

Andy said...

Hi, Jess!

kr said...


You are still on my RSS feed--but I haven't looked at it in a couple of months ... as you might know if you have been following my blog (ha ha ;) ), I gave up about then on being a good blog citizen and have been completely navel-gazing.

However, I just looked up your blog today to try to find a long-ago debate involving Future Geek (which I cannot find) and discovered it active! Yay!

I guess I'll have to make more time for blog-reading, since you've come back focussed on the thing I liked best in this blog's previous range ;). Good thing I just got my task load downgraded at the school :) ...