Praying with the Saints, 2
Greetings from a cool land of beer and cheese. In yesterday's blog I spoke of a journey of sorts that has led me to my present understanding. I spoke of the blessing of "praying with the saints" . . . and such it is.
You see I believe that the "spiritual" life is a gift of grace, not an achievement. The term "spiritual" is used in the Pauline writings 24x as an adjective to describe the work of God's Spirit operative within us. The spiritual walk is "spiritual" precisely because it is a river that flows from God's Spirit. It is born of God's Spirit . . . it is produced by God's Holy Spirit.
Thus spiritual discipline is not to be conceived of as a talisman or a legalistic ritual that if I do "a" then God does "b." But we do "participate" or "share" in His life, we surrender and allow the River of the Spirit to establish the rhythm and flow of grace within our lives. One of the disciplines I have profited from greatly is praying with the saints.
By praying with the saints I mean using a tool such as the classical "Book of Hours" to structure one's prayer life. The saints who collected this book have made a path for me to enter that wonderful rhythm of God's Spirit. My prayer life was hit and miss . . . haphazard at its very best. In the late 1990s I discovered the Book of Hours.
The Book of Hours is a "prayer book" that dates back to the seventh century A. D. The book takes the Hebraic (bibilical) notion that there is a certain "rhythm" of life . . . a divine rhythm. The Book of Hours focuses upon the Incarnation, Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. One literally prays through the redemptive moments of Christ's life each day. The day is divided up into eight parts:
Matins (morning prayer, 4 am)
Lauds (morning praise, especially of the resurrection, 5 am)
Prime (focus on the wounded Jesus before Pilate 6 am)
Terce (crowds rail at Jesus, 9 am)
Sext (Jesus is nailed to the cross, Noon)
None (Jesus is pierced in his side, 3 pm)
Vespers (Jesus taken down from the cross, 6 pm)
Compline (Jesus laid in tomb, 9 pm)
We begin the day in a burst of praise in prayer. Resurrection and new life are granted . . . death did NOT win over Jesus and shall not over us. Sin did not triumph. There is reason to praise and be glad. Through the rest of the day you are quite literally ruminating on the rhythm of grace that is inspired by the River of the Spirit.
An example of one of these ancient prayers is Quem Terra ("Whom the earth"), it is a favorite of mine:
"The womb of Mary bore him whom the heavens cannot contain.
See the earth, the waters, and all the heavens worship,
bow down, and proclaim him.
He is the One who governs the world.
Yet he entered the womb of a woman and was contained by her,
even though the sun, the moon, and all things serve him forever.
Mary's womb was full of the grace of the heavens. Blessed mother,
by God's gift, the One who is the highest of all powers,
the One who holds the world in his hand, was cloistered in her womb.
You are blessed and full of the Holy Spirit
by the messenger who came from heaven; and your womb,
he who is desired by all people was brought forth.
Glory to you, Lord, who were born of woman!
With the Father and the Holy Spirit, you dwell forever. Amen."
This is followed by several Psalm readings and then "Te Deum laudamus" (We Praise you, Lord) which is an ancient hymn. This is another personal favorite:
"We praise you, God; we acknowledge you to be the Lord.
All the earth worships you, the Father everlasting.
To you all angels cry with a loud voice,
the heavens and all the powers and the
cherubium and seraphim continually cry.
Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of creation;
heaven and earth are full of the majesy of your glory.
The glorious company of apostles praise you.
The goodly company of prophets praise you.
The noble army of martyrs praise you.
The holy church throughout all the world acknowledges you,
the Father, of an infinite majesty, and
your adorable, true, and only Son,
and the Holy Spirit who comforts us.
You are the King of Glory, Christ.
You are the everlasting Son of the Father.
When you took it upon yourself to deliver us
from all the powers of evil,
you humbled yourself to be born of a Virgin.
When you overcame the threat of death,
you opened the kingdom of heaven to all believers.
Now sit at the right hand of God, in the glory of the Father.
We believe that you will come to be our judge.
Therefore we pray to you to help your servants,
whom you have redeemed with your precious blood.
Make us to be numbered with your saints in glory everlasting.
Pray for us to the Lord our God. Amen."
During Prime we pray the moving plea for Christ to fill us with his Spirit:
"Come, Creator Spirit, visit your servants. Fill the hearts that you have made, full of your grace. By your mercy, you took the likeness of our body and were born of an unwed woman. Glory to you, Lord, for you were born of a woman, with the Father and the Holy Spirit everlasting. Amen."
I must freely confess that I often lack the discipline to do the entire Book of Hours. I have trouble getting up at 4 am each morning. Yet the rhythm of the life that flows from structured times of prayer invites God's Presence into the corners of my life. The Book has also transformed my prayers from mere recitations of a wish list to meditations on and praise of the gift of Jesus himself. This has greatly enriched my walk with the Lord.
I have counseled many to plan a "getaway" with God using the Book of Hours as a guide. Having a weekend or even a Friday or Saturday night that is spent praying with the ancient saints through the Book of Hours is a renewing experience. The Book is great for retreats and the like . . . one's prayerlife is focused quite literally on God's grace . . . what He did in Jesus for us.
The Book is a guide book and helps in giving content to prayer rather than a "haphazard" buckshot approach. I personally have been greatly enriched . . . and I am quite conscious of a rhythm in my life that I was not conscious of before. The prayers of saints who have gone on before are very meaningful, Christ centered and I have a sense of fellowship with God's entire family unknown previously.
In Medieval times the Book of Hours was combined with numerous Psalms and guides in dealing with prayer at other significant moments in life (death, etc), it became known as The Prymer. Robert Webber has recently translated this wonderful resource. I recommend it for your own spiritual enrichment. I emphasize again that helps like The Prymer are vehicles to help give us voice to our own praise to God, to open up our own soul to his Presence.
I also pray without the Book but I am never far from it. Now my entire prayer life has focus, if someone asks me now to help them to pray, I pull them in my office or go to their home and get on my knees and actually pray with them. Extemporaneous prayer is much more genuine now because I am already in a prayerful mood (the rhythm!). I doubt this is for everyone but I have found this very meaningful. I am grateful for the prayers of Anselm, The Book of Hours and a host of others that I have allowed myself to be blessed by. The Saints of the past do have something to teach us . . . especially about praying and being in the River of the Spirit.
God in his providence has left these spiritual treasures for his people because prayer is not easy. In fact it is quite difficult and that is why I relish the fellowship of the community of saints as I pray with my shoulder to theirs.