A source of daily readings

I’ve shortened my morning prayers and vespers to make them more appropriate for use alone, and brief enough to read before and after work.

I’ve take out the provision for readings and all but the fixed psalms (and after looking for a portable New Testament and Psalter!) so I can use the one book. But a little more scripture — to hang my thoughts on, to reflect on, to find guidance in — would be right.

I’ve subscribed to Moravian Daily Texts, which I get by email each day and which they’ve been printing since 1731! Two, very brief readings. Just about short enough to post on as the Community Wayside Pulpit or perhaps even to tweet. “Little chapters” if you pray the breviary.

Micro-alterations in liturgy

One of the principles I brought into my morning and evening prayer practice is that I would read the prayers as printed until became accustomed to them. I would borrow their voice and let it become mine as I learned the internal logic of the services. I refused to be trapped by my own sensibility: a sensibility evoked with the joke about Unitarian Universalists reading ahead to see if they agree with the words of a hymn. Being a Unitarian Universalist is, too often, questing after fixing things whether they need fixing or not.

So I took time to listen. Now that I have a sense of this voice and rhythm, I’ve begun to make alterations. Very small one. (I’ll write about a replacement soon.) These are the micro-alterations that a person or congregation, familiar with a liturgical text, will make, possibly without planning and likely without notice. An appeal less to change, but a flexibility that keeps the prayer from drawing too much attention to itself.

  1. Small changes to gendered language. “All men” become “all.” Or “men” become “people.” Matriarchs join patriarchs. But I leave the “he” pronouns for God. Changing them would pull me too far out of prayer; instead, I pronounce these pronouns softly — more like”ee” — and keep going.
  2. Pacing some items — less timely, less resonant prayers, say — faster than others. You can always slow down when they’re needed.
  3. Inserting petitions into collects. That’s a blog post of its own.
  4. Stopping, and sometimes repeating, a prayer.

A prayer at eventide

I’ve moved from a traditional Universalist prayerbook’s evening prayer to vespers — a related service, but very different in structure and tone — because it is more meditative, more focused on the night, and night as a foreshadow of death. But considering death then turns us back to life, so the experience isn’t gloomy, but a solace.

This prayer speaks to me as the apex of vespers. That “…shall be heard by us no more” is hopeful: our future lies in God, and generations will live after us.  That’s hope.

O blessed God, who neither slumberest nor sleepest; Take us into thy gracious keeping for this night; and make us mindful of that night when the noise of this busy world shall be heard by us no more. O Lord, in whom we trust, help us by thy grace so to live that we may never be afraid to die, and grant that at the last as now our evensong may be: I will lay me down in peace, and sleep, for thou, Lord, only makest me dwell in safety. Amen.

It’s not clear who wrote this prayer, or when. It is distinctly Universalist, but has echoes in other sources. It was written no later than 1863 — an age well acquainted with painful memories of the dead — and appeared in James Martineau’s Common Prayer for Christian Worship, so he may be the source.

 

Daily prayer: "I will pray for you" (and mean it)

“I will pray for you” and its secularized version “I’m thinking of you” are still lively expressions of concern, and often deeply valued by the person thought of or prayed for. Friends have approached me, asking for prayer, only last week.

“Of course,” I said. And I mean it, and I have a plan to fulfil that request. I will pray for you.

There’s a technique to adding petitions to collects. To review, collects (accent on the first syllable) are a variety of prayer with a particular structure, and they are typically prayed in a set series, with special collects added for particular occasions. In the morning and evening prayer the Universalists historically used, the collects come at the end. The collect “for all Conditions of Men” is a good place to add petitions, so I’ll show it as printed, and then as I pray it. Prayers for clergy and congregations (I always pray for my ministers and church, for what it’s worth), for this and other nations, for special occasions, and my blessings in this life come in other places.

As printed:

O God, the Creator and Preserver of all mankind, we humbly beseech thee for all sorts and conditions of men; that thou wouldest be pleased to make thy ways known unto them, thy saving health unto all nations. More especially we pray for the good estate of the Church Universal; that it may be so guided and governed by thy good Spirit, that all who profess and call themselves Christians may be led into the way of truth, and hold the faith in unity of spirit, in the bond of peace, and in righteousness of life. Finally, we commend to thy fatherly goodness all those who are any ways afflicted or distressed, in mind, body, or estate; that it may please thee to comfort and relieve them according to their several necessities, giving them patience under their sufferings, and a happy issue out of all their afflictions. And this we beg for thy mercy’s sake in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

How I pray it today:

O God, the Creator and Preserver of all mankind, we humbly beseech thee for all sorts and conditions of men; that thou wouldest be pleased to make thy ways known unto them, thy saving health unto all nations. More especially we pray for the good estate of the Church Universal; and in particular the churches in Iraq, that it may be so guided and governed by thy good Spirit, that all who profess and call themselves Christians may be led into the way of truth, and hold the faith in unity of spirit, in the bond of peace, and in righteousness of life. Finally, we commend to thy fatherly goodness all those who are any ways afflicted or distressed, in mind, body, or estate; particularly Anna, Bailey and Carter; the refugees in Syria and Gaza; and people suffering with bulimia that it may please thee to comfort and relieve them according to their several necessities, giving them patience under their sufferings, and a happy issue out of all their afflictions. And this we beg for thy mercy’s sake in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The semicolons are your friends. Added petitions seem to fit there naturally, or at the end of sentences. I’ll later share some resources about finding additional, particular (“proper”) collects.

Different ways to "sing" the psalm

Each evening, for vespers, I “sing” the Bonum Est Confiteri, Prasm 92:1-4 as it read in the rubrics, and included in the Coverdale version:

¶ Then shall be sang the following Psalm:

Bonum Est Confiteri.

It is a good thing to give thanks unto the Lord: and to sing praises unto thy name, O Most Highest;
To tell of thy loving-kindness early in the morning: and of thy truth in the night-season;
Upon an instrument of ten strings, and upon the lute: upon a loud instrument, and upon the harp.
For thou, Lord, hast made me glad through thy works: and I will rejoice in giving praise for the operations of thy hands.

Do I sing it? No. But there a different ways congregations can use this (and other psalms and canticles):

  1. Read in in unison.
  2. Read in by alternating verses or half verses; alternating between a worship leader and congregation, or between halves of the congregation.
  3. Read in unison, but book-ended with a sung antiphon. More often seen in newer hymnals.
  4. Chanted: plainsong or Anglican chant being two options.
  5. A metrical version sung to a psalm tune — “Old 100th” was the tune for an early metrical version of Psalm 100.
  6. A hymn based closely on the psalm.

The Sternhold and Hopkins metrical psalter is the likely choice for option 5, giving us, in common meter:

It is a thing both good and meet
to praise the highest Lord,
And to thy Name, O thou most High,
to sing with one accord:

To shew the kindness of the Lord,
before the day be light,
And to declare his truth abroad,
when it doth draw to night;

On a ten-string’ed instrument,
on lute and harp so sweet,
With all the mirth you can invent
of instruments most meet.

An assortment of hymns evoking Psalm 92 may be found here.

The point: a rubric and a text may be used in more than the literal way.

Evening prayer alterations: Prayer for the President

Twice a day now, I pray for the President of the United States and others “in civil authority” as part of my morning and evening prayer practice. It is not only a hallowed practice, but one that gets its warrant in the same breath as a testimony made for universal salvation, namely 1 Timothy 2:1-4:

I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.

(Reading on in the same chapter, I’m not so fond about the part about women teaching; the author of this letter makes a hash out of his Genesis prooftext, too. I digress.)

But the prayer appointed in the evening is increasingly problematic. I’ve given a good try, but I need to find a replacement. It reads:

Almighty God, whose kingdom is everlasting and power infinite; Have mercy upon this whole land; and so rule the hearts of thy servants, The President of the United States, The Governor of this State, and all others in authority, that they, knowing whose ministers they are, may above all things seek thine honor and glory; and that we and all the people, duly considering whose authority they bear, may faithfully and obediently honor them, in thee and for thee, according to thy blessed Word and Ordinance; through Jesus Christ our Lord who, with thee and the Holy Ghost, liveth and reigneth, world without end. Amen.

Close versions of this prayer have been in use in the United States in a number of different prayer books for two hundred years. Also, if you were saying Evening Prayer among traditionalists in the Church of England, you would note it is in the place of the state prayers (particularly “Prayer for the Queen’s Majesty”). Which is by way of saying this prayer bears more of the markings of a prayer for a Christian ruler than a prayer Christians would make for their elected leaders in a secular democracy. And while the author to Timothy had no imagining of our modern democracy, neither were the powers prayed-for either Christian or particularly sympathetic, so the tone of this prayer seems unnecessarily deferential.

We can do better.

Morning and evening prayer for myself

For the last week or so I’ve been praying an abridged version of Universalist morning and evening prayer (evening prayer, rather than the morning prayer and vespers PDF I posted) at home. Abridged in that I don’t read out the dialogues, opening words or anything to direct the congregation. No hymns and obviously no sermon.

A psalm or two, a reading, and the usual prayers. I add a collect for the day, and I’m slowly working through various resources to find these, and collects for special occasions.

I’m getting used to the rhythms of grammar of the prayers, and I add to specific petitions more naturally each day. I started using small sticky notes to remember particular people places or situations in my prayers. Some elements are showing their age; others provide timeless comfort.

Even after a few days, I can feel something changing my direction towards God, and I look for new discoveries in the days and years to come.

A review of the daily office in 500 words

So many thoughtful and talented people have written so well about the development of the daily office, or the Christian duty of daily prayer, that it’s folly for me to do so in brief. Indeed, you may want to stop here and get a copy of George Guiver’s 2001 Company of Voices: Daily Prayer and the People of God instead.

My job here is to get Unitarian Universalists (and similarly Protestantly reformed sorts) to the doorstep. Inside the house is ninteenth and twentieth century works from our tradition that themselves have roots in the daily office. Together we might make something for the twenty-first.

Christians adopted the practice of praying at different times of the days from Jews, and both made extensive use of psalms. Seven services a day for monks three of which were short and at midday, but we will not be retuning to these. In late antiquity, the peoples’ versions would be twice daily, but mainly praises and prayers, with some other scripture: partipatory and jubilant.

In the eastern Mediterranean, say in the seventh century, these prayers were popular among everyday people, as opposed to the priestly work at the altar. Some of the rhythms and text choices laid down then continue to this day. But the fullest development in the West, with the seven service, came in the monastaries, which may have had hundreds (even more than a thousand) monastics, either women and men. Much liturgical material was written in this period. Additional services, say, for the dead plus commemorations of the saints crept into medieval, monastic practices, greatly complicating it. Outside the monasteries, literate (and wealthy) laypeople might have vernacular, practical works of piety and prayer (called primers) while the travelling Franciscans used a reduced and one-volume service book, aptly called a breviary. Onward development often meant simplification.

In 1549, the Church of England adopted its first prayer book, simplifying and formally compressing the services of (overnight) matins and (pre-dawn) lauds into morning prayer, and (after sunset) vespers and (bedtime) compline into evening prayer. Later, elements from (mid-morning) prime was prepended to morning prayer. In each case, transitions persisted, like the breaks between a rail car. (We will examine the contents of the parts, what happens at the breaks and needed reforms later.)

Ideally, this meant morning prayer (with the litany, a long prayer of intercession with alternating parts between the minister and people three times a week) and evening prayer everyday, and communion after morning prayer on Sundays. In practice, the laity did not welcome communion, relegating it to the margins of piety, and the typical Sunday service become morning prayer, with sermon, the litany, trailing into communion but ending halfway.

Colonial Unitarians and Universalists had simpler worship, with heavy doses of preaching, prayers and singing. (The first denominational hymnal in the United States was Universalist.) The King’s Chapel (Anglican then Unitarian) and the Menzies Raynor (a New York Episcopanian minister turned Universalist) offer early witnesses to the influence of morning prayer for the Sunday service. When mid-nineneeth-century Unitarian and Universalists (the former influenced by James Martieau) adopted service books, they assumed the standards described in the paragraph above, and these practices influenced others that didn’t use the books.

New "Union Prayer Book" and old "Parish Practice" arrived today

I’ll keep this brief because I came home feeling not-so-well today. Two books that I had ordered arrived: the hot-off-the-presses new addition of the Union Prayer Book, Sinai Edition, Revised And a used copy of Parish Practice in Universalist Churches, by Robert Cummins.

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The first is a modern adaptation of a classic Reform Jewish prayer book and I’m excited to review it since it has many of the same liturgical sensibilities of classic Unitarian liturgy. Indeed the Sinai referred to in the title is Chicago Sinai Congregation, its source. Chicago, as many of my readers know, is also a wellspring of this Unitarian liturgical tradition I referenced.

The other book is what it says on the label, written in 1946 by a well-loved, now-deceased General Superintendent of the Universalist Church of America. Fun fact: This copy was withdrawn from Andover Newton and was last checked out 40 years ago.

More details about these, and the Coptic works I’ve been writing about as soon as I can.