Pastoral thoughts from a United Methodist in Western Kentucky (USA)
Friday, May 23, 2008
Old & New With the Familiar
That is a picture of my prie deux that sits in my office. My hometown fire chief, Buster Williams, made that for me several years ago. It was the next-to-last piece of furniture that he ever made before he died. It reminds me that we stand (and kneel) on the shoulders of giants. It is my most treasured piece of furniture.
I have been in ordered life since 1991, and the Daily Offices have been a part of my prayer life since then. I was introduced to the daily office when I was in seminary. Two wonderful people, Mary Stamps and Don Saliers, led morning prayer at 7:30 in the morning in Cannon Chapel. Don was my professor of worship (and as all UM's know, so instrumental in worship renewal and study for UM's). Mary was a doctoral student and now lives in monastic life at St. Brigid of Kildare Monastery - a monastery she founded (story here). We all managed to play golf together once. In those days I took my golf seriously, but on that day I watched my language and managed to share fellowship instead of try to birdie holes. Or par them.
The Daily Office gives my prayer life structure and discipline. I learned the ancient practice of lectio divina, praying the scriptures. Both of those things led to my journaling and writing. And in the process, I have learned that when communicating with God, it is much more important to be silent and listen than to do all of the talking. God has important things to say to us!
Of late, I have incorporated something new into my praying the offices. This is hard for me, because I am very much a creature of habit, form, and structure. I received as a gift Celtic Daily Prayer: Prayers and Readings from the Northumbria Community. I have Celtic roots (fair skin, a little red in my beard [what hasn't turned gray], and an appreciation for Guinness and Jameson), and Celtic Christian spirituality has a lot of appreciation for monasticism, higher learning, art & poetry, theological orthodoxy, and thin boundaries between the sacred and secular. Ireland was quite isolated from the Roman Catholic Church, and there really weren't any towns - just countryside villages. So their liturgy and their spirituality took on a more rugged, missionary quality.
More specifically, the Celts developed the idea of having a partner or partners (a "soul friend") to help in spiritual direction, and they invented personal confession. Because of illiteracy, they were an oral word-based culture; most of the people were illiterate but had great memorization skills, and as a result they loved to tell and hear great stories. They had a sense of closeness and immanence between the natural and supernatural, and placed great priority on hospitality. Family and kinship ties were very important to them.
So as I read ancient prayers and the biographies of Celtic saints, I go back in time with appreciation for my ancestral roots as well as my Christian roots. Incorporating them into my prayer life is both new, yet old. Which is how our faith is supposed to be.
The more I hear the phrase "ancient-future" used in a Christian context, the more I like it.