Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Halfway through a year of Daily Office

On Sexagesima, the Gospel (1 year lectionary) and sermon at our church were drawn from the parable of the sower (Luke 8: 4-16):
WHEN much people were gathered together, and were come to him out of every city, he spake by a parable: A sower went out to sow his seed: and as he sowed, some fell by the way-side; and it was trodden down, and the fowls of the air devoured it. And some fell upon a rock; and as soon as it was sprung up, it withered away, because it lacked moisture. And some fell among thorns; and the thorns sprang up with it, and choked it. And other fell on good ground, and sprang up, and bare fruit an hundredfold.

And when he had said these things, he cried, He that hath ears to hear, let him hear. And his disciples asked him, saying, What might this parable be? And he said, Unto you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God: but to others in parables; that seeing they might not see, and hearing they might not understand.

Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God. Those by the way-side are they that hear; then cometh the devil, and taketh away the word out of their hearts, lest they should believe and be saved. They on the rock are they, which, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no root, which for a while believe, and in time of temptation fall away. And that which fell among thorns are they, which, when they have heard, go forth, and are choked with cares and riches and pleasures of this life, and bring no fruit to perfection. But that on the good ground are they, which in an honest and good heart, having heard the word, keep it, and bring forth fruit with patience.
Since returning to the church 25 years ago, thorns have been my biggest spiritual challenge. I no longer chase after money, but still retain a competitive ambition for worldly success that means following through on what I know is right often plays second fiddle to career goals (sometimes third after my family). So this is a work in progress.

At our new church, I am making progress on this attitude a few minutes every day, in part through adoption of the Daily Office.

Starting the Daily Office

After six months of searching, last summer we switched churches to a large, established Continuing Anglican church. (Up until the last minute we expected to switch to my father's church, but because they don’t have their own building, the schedule of services didn't work for our family.)

The choice paid almost immediate dividends. On our second visit to what would become our new church, we went to the adult ed class, led by one of the senior couples in the parish. The topic was marriage, but the wife (Karen) talked aobut how she advised couples with difficulties to pray the Daily Office. I'd heard clergy talk about the Daily Office, but hearing it from a lay person made it seem more real (and approachable).

I started saying morning prayer the next day, and have managed to consistently say it 6-7 days a week for the past 7 months. The days I miss, usually I have an appointment or call first thing in the morning, and then get dragged into the cares of the world. Sticking to the discipline does help push back on such cares (as discussed below). It also has helped me to more fully understand morning pryaer (see next posting).

(It was only later in an adult ed class did I realize that Daily Office also includes Evening Prayer. So I'm only halfway there, and addressing that gradually is my 2016 resolution.)

Pastoral Imperative of Spiritual Balance

Since November, I've been in an advanced pastoral ministry class with our rector. The book for our first four sessions was Pastoral Theology: A Reorientation (1958) by Martin Thornton, an English priest who lived from 1915-1986. I cannot praise this book enough, as it (along with the class) has changed my life.

A major theme throughout the book is the need for spiritual balance: as we found out in the final chapters of the book, especially chapters 17-20. Imbalance towards our triune God is an inherent trend of human nature:
In dealing with the three Persons of the Trinity separately and in seeming isolating, we are only accepting the fact of human frailty, which pastoral theology is bound to do. … Because of finity … we are inclined to lay emphasis on one single Person of the Holy Trinity and divorce him form the other Persons; this we gladly agree should not be, but it is so, and pastoral theology must face facts. [193]
Everyone is tempted by his or her personality type toward imbalance:
The basic religious tendency associated with the idea of the first person of the Trinity is one of transcendence, majesty, or awe. If in a particular soul, the single word “God” immediately suggests the notion of the Father as omnipotent Creator and supreme Being, then that’s soul’s … approach to God will be generally objective, its religion may well contain a considerable intellectual element, it might achieve adoration or it might sink to a legalistic moralism.

If God is immediately apprehended as the Incarnate Son, a sense of communion, rapport, and finally love will be to the forefront of the soul’s experience. Such a soul is likely to be widely sacramental, probably imaginative and meditative rather than intellectual, and possess of instinctive understanding of sin and redemption. …

The Holy Ghost is immanent in the world and within the soul and he is spontaneously known as the Paraclete: he is the Comforter spiritually experienced, he is God indwelling, and gives feeling to religious experience. [194]

By this simplest possible summary, the first Person of the Trinity inspires the objective approach, the second Person inspires the mediatorial and redemptive, and the third Person the subjective element in the religious experience. And by the necessary balancing of the traditional expressions — Office, Mass, and private prayer — we have an ascetical framework of greater practical value than simplicity might suggest. [196]
The way to achieve spiritual balance is to practice a balanced rule of life. Thorton associates each of the Persons of the Trinity with a particular personality trait and element of a spiritual discipline:
The Rule of the Anglican Church can be summarized as consisting of (1) the Office, which is the corporate worship of the Body of Christ to the Father … This is a twofold Office “daily throughout the year”. (2) The Mass is the living embrace of Christ in joy, attained by the synthesis of his complete succor offered and his absolute demand accepted. And it is stipulated on some seventy-five days of the year (The Red Letter days) when a special collect, epistle, and gospel are supplied (3) Private prayer concerns the sanctification of the individual soul by the indwelling spirit, to the glory of God. [205-206]
In other words, an Anglo-Catholic is not someone who just goes to mass, but follows the (Benedictine-inspired) Cranmer roadmap of mass and daily office, combined with personal prayer.

Praying the Daily Office

I struggled at first to master the Daily Office. In the 28 prayer book, finding the daily collect and lesson is trivial because it's printed there. In the 1982 (or ACNA) with the three year lectionary, it requires considerable juggling unless (as is now the case) they put the lessons in the bulletin. But that complexity is magnified sixfold or tenfold when trying to do the readings every morning (and evening).

Fortunately, the Intenret makes it easy and gives almost no excuse. For morning prayer, I tried various websites:
  • The widest range of liturgies is at The Trinity Mission -- which supports Rite I, Rite II, 1928, 1662 and several others. However, they use their own lectionary, which makes it difficult to fall back to paper in an emergency, or follow the same readings as your fellow parishioners.
  • My Rite II ACNA mentor swears by The Mission of St. Clare (which even has an app), but it’s a Rite II site with partial Rite I support (i.e. if you pray Rite I at times you end up with Rite II prayers)
  • I stumbled across CommonPrayer.org, which is a straight up 1928 BCP site, and then found when taking my class that almost everyone in my class uses it (including the rector). It is what I have used daily for more than six months now.
  • One of my classmates (the same Karen) mentioned Cradle of Prayer, which allows us Californians to recite our Daily Office while cruising down the freeway at 65 mph.
Some weeks it’s a challenge to do all seven days. I prefer to do it at home — either kneeling the entire time, kneeling as marked or (on mornings I’m not feeling so hot) not kneeling at all. I also do it in a hotel or (occasionally) at work. About once a week, I do it on the train to work (or even on a plane when traveling), either using my phone or pre-loading the CommonPrayer readings into my laptop. Finally, when there’s no practical alternative, I take the Cradle of Prayer loophole — which counts in a legalistic sense but lacks the same spiritual connection as reciting all the prayers myself (more later).

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