Saturday, February 27, 2010

Shorter Christian Prayer

Shorter Christian Prayer: The Four-Week Psalter of the Liturgy of the Hours Containing Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer with Selections for the Entire Year. New York: Catholic Book Pub. Co, 1988.

Shorter Christian Prayer is a condensation of Christian Prayer, which is itself a short version of the gigantic four volume set, Liturgy of the Hours. SCP is oriented around the Psalms, and provides readings and guided intercessory prayers according to the Christian year, along with additional material for major feasts.

What I Like. This book is small and affordable, retailing at $13.95 each.

What I Don't Like. Nothing, really. Using seasonal time can be just a little unwieldy at first, but once again, once you've learned how to use a particular breviary, it's second nature.

Bottom Line. This is an excellent book for individual and group use. Some believers may be uncomfortable by some basic Roman Catholic theological commitments (e.g. the Blessed Virgin Mary is often referred to as a model for discipleship, because she is, and the Pope is occasionally prayed for, because he ought to be).

Friday, February 26, 2010

Book of Common Prayer

The Book of Common Prayer, originally compiled by the martyred Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, was the cornerstone of Reformation Christianity in England, and still serves as such for Anglican Christians across the globe. Cranmer brought together the various liturgies (worship services) used in England and on the continent, and produced a single version, informed by the principles of the Reformation, in English. The primary purpose was to provide a worshipful framework for the public reading of Scripture in the churches: like a long Bible reading plan with prayers attached.

The services most used in the Book of Common Prayer are Morning and Evening Prayer, Holy Eucharist (the Lord's Supper, or Communion), and Compline (prayer before retiring). All of the services in the BCP are designed for public use by congregations and small groups, but Morning and Evening Prayer and Compline are used very often for personal devotions.

The most common versions in the US are the 1979 and 1928 revisions, and the 1662 from England.

What I Like. The Offices in the Book of Common Prayer are Scripture-heavy: really geared toward a broad reading of Scripture, so that most of the Bible is read in a two year cycle. The content is also traditional in the historical sense, but with a Reformation tempering; prayers are offered that Christians have been offering for hundreds of years, with the Psalms (the prayers that Jesus prayed!) at the center, making place for intercessory prayer.

What I Didn't Like. Because the BCP is meant to be used in all seasons for all the services of the Church, there is a learning curve for its use, and holding both the Bible and the Prayer Book during devotional times can feel a little unwieldy at times. The volume isn't nearly as confusing as it looks, and it's invaluable as a devotional tool.

The Bottom Line. The Book of Common Prayer is a classic of the Western Christian tradition, and Christians of all denominations (and none) draw from its resources, and with good reason. This is the meat and potatoes of prayer books, both ubiquitous and affordable.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Divine Hours

Primary Volumes

Tickle, Phyllis. The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime. New York: Doubleday, 2000.
_____. The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime. New York: Doubleday, 2000.
_____. The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime : a Manual for Prayer. New York: Doubleday, 2001.

Supplemental Material

Tickle, Phyllis. Christmastide: Prayers for Advent Through Epiphany from The Divine Hours. New York: Galilee, 2003.
_____. Eastertide: Prayers for Lent Through Easter from the Divine Hours. New York: Galilee, 2004.
_____. The Night Offices: Prayers for the Hours from Sunset to Sunrise. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006.
_____. The Divine Hours. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007. [Pocket edition.]

The Divine Hours is a multi-volume handbook for fixed hour prayer modeled set of prayer offices ordered according to the traditional monastic hours, condensed into four prayer times throughout the day. Ecumenical in scope, much of the material is taken from the Bible and the Book of Common Prayer, with the addition of poems, hymns, and short meditations taken from the broader Christian faith (i.e. Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox writers). The offices can be said in 5 to 10 minutes, and are ideal for slow reading and meditation, especially lectio divina.

Go here for Tickle's introduction to the practice of "fixed hour prayer."

What I Liked: This breviary is extremely user-friendly, and the type is readable and attractive. The offices observe major feast days and commemorations of the Christian year, and is even available for the Kindle.

What I Didn't Like: Only the paperbacks of the original three volume work are presently in print. I still have the older hardcovers, so I have no idea how sturdy and long lasting the paperbacks might be, as they are each nearly 700 pages.

The Bottom Line: This is an excellent book for beginners to the practice or for folks who want short offices with a very loose form, and is the most simple and user friendly breviary that I've used. If you want to follow the Christian year more carefully, consider Celebrating Daily Prayer or the full Liturgy of the Hours.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Celebrating Daily Prayer

Church of England. Celebrating Daily Prayer: The New Pocket Version of Celebrating Common Prayer. London: Morehouse, 2005. Amazon link.

In 2000, the Church of England published a new English liturgy meant to supplement and expand upon the theology and liturgy presented in the classical Book of Common Prayer (1662), in contemporary English. This volume is called Common Worship: Services and Prayers for the Church of England. I have great appreciation for this book of services, as do some of my pastor friends in other Christian traditions.

The Anglican Franciscans of Great Britain created a version of this liturgy in a little breviary meant for personal and corporate daily prayer, entitled Celebrating Common Prayer (CCP), now called Celebrating Daily Prayer (CDP). The former edition was small and black, and the new edition is larger and red. This is important because the text inside is similarly formatted, but different (the two cannot be used together in group prayers).

The volume at hand, Celebrating Daily Prayer, offers short offices that can prayed in fifteen minutes. It includes materials for ordinary time and all of the seasons of the Church year. Each office begins with an opening prayer themed according to the Christian year, continues with a selection from the Psalter, a canticle (a song from the New or Old Testament that is traditionally chanted), a short selection from the Bible, and another canticle (either the Benedictus or the Magnificat). The office concludes with both free and written intercession, a closing collect, and the Lord's Prayer.

Supplemental devotional material includes additional prayers and collects, the Angelus Domini, Graces for meals, a cycle of intercessions, and special prayer services for thanksgiving, observing a death, departures, Eucharistic devotions, prayers at the foot of the Cross, and several others.

What I Like. This breviary is one of my favorites for several reasons. It's wonderful for beginners, because of its simplicity and variation. It's rare to find one that's both simple to use and allows disciples to observe the breadth of the Christian year. Not just an Office book, this is suited as a full-on devotional manual, with its offerings of supplemental occasional material, traditional prayers, and descriptions of the Calendar.

What I Don't Like. It's a little pricey, retailing for $29.95. Amazon Marketplace can offer some deals, however. Also, it does not contain the entire Psalter.

The Bottom Line. This is perfect for beginners who want a quick prayer time with a lot of Scripture themed around the Christian year.

Monday, February 22, 2010

The St. Francis / St. Clare Prayer Book

Sweeney, Jon M. The St. Clare Prayer Book: Listening for God's Leading. Brewster, Mass: Paraclete Press, 2007. $14.95

_____. The St. Francis Prayer Book: A Guide to Deepen Your Spiritual Life. Brewster, Mass: Paraclete Press, 2004 15.95

These two prayer books are similarly formatted, along two different themes. They contain an introduction and biographical chapter that commend the life and witness of Francis and Clare of Assisi, followed by short offices (prayer services). The offices can each be prayed slowly and meditatively in ten to fifteen minutes. There is one separate morning prayer and one evening prayer office for each of seven days, and a quick compline (night prayer) that's the same for each night. Each day includes collects (set prayers) quotations, and Scripture readings that enlarge upon a particular theme in the spiritual life.

In the St. Francis volume, these are themes in Franciscan spirituality:
  • Following Christ
  • Disregard for possessions
  • Peace and care in human relationships
  • Love for all creatures
  • Preaching the Good News
  • Passion more important than learning
  • Joyful simplicity
The St. Clare volume is oriented toward discernment, or "listening prayer":
  • Embracing Christ
  • Purity
  • Walking the path of conversion
  • Listening with the heart
  • Adoring Christ
  • True discipleship
  • Redefining family
What I Like. It's important that a breviary (book of short prayers) be accessible and easy to use. While they are paperbacks, they are well bound and attractively designed. The type is reasonably large and the different sections are easy to read. Finding one's place requires only to know what day of the week it is, and the prayer offices require no flipping back and forth. They are also very attractively priced.

What I Don't Like. It is a common poetic device of Franciscans to thank God in all circumstances by offering prayer of praise to Lady Poverty, et al. You know, like Brother Sun, Sister Moon, and all of that. I don't imagine that Francis, Clare, or any of the Order's members suppose there to be an actual heavenly persona named Poverty, whom we would care to address in real terms. I understand the poetic device and find it pleasant. Christian prayer, however, is addressed to the Father, with the Son, through the Holy Spirit (leaving aside the question of intercessions to departed Saints). The Psalms seem to entreat Creation to praise God along with the worshippers, but when I'm teaching beginning disciples to prayer, I don't want to have to go through the trouble of explaining/defending that particular literary device.

Bottom line: The introductory material provides an excellent popular account of these Christian saints and their contributions to the spiritual life of the wider Church. The book itself is easy to use for prayers, aesthetically attractive, and well-priced. If you don't mind the aforementioned literary device, these volumes are an excellent gateway to the practice of regular structured prayer as well as Franciscan Christian spirituality.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

An Annotated List of Lenten Reading Suggestions

Go here for my Lenten Letter for 2010.

Benedict of Nursia. The Rule of Saint Benedict. Various editions.
Written by the father of Western monasticism, this “little rule for beginners” is a challenging and insightful path for following Jesus and growing in Christian love.
Cook, Jeff. Seven: The Deadly Sins and the Beatitudes. Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan, 2008.
Cook’s accessible study contrasts the Christian tradition of capital vices (habitual sins that destroy the with-God life) with the growth of virtue as expressed in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. This is a valuable and insightful introduction to how believers can cooperate with God in becoming more like Jesus.
DeSilva, David Arthur. Sacramental Life: Spiritual Formation Through the Book of Common Prayer. Downers Grove, Ill: IVP Books, 2008.
It’s a common joke in post- and sub-Christian cultures that many people only want Jesus and the Church in their rites of passage: “hatching, matching, and dispatching.” But more important than the emotions of those days or the beauty of the rites is the framework for living that the Christian story provides. As many people ask, ”what on earth am I here for?” DeSilva demonstrates that the answers can be found in the sacramental rites of baptism, the Lord’s Supper, marriage and burial, as he explicates the implicit theology offered by the services in the Book of Common Prayer.
Homan, Daniel, and Lonni Collins Pratt. Radical Hospitality: Benedict's Way of Love. Brewster, Mass: Paraclete Press, 2002.
This short book looks to the Rule of Benedict to provide balance between ministry to others (both at work and at home) and the inner life. I highly recommend it.
Kinnaman, David, and Gabe Lyons. Unchristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks About Christianity-- and Why It Matters. Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker Books, 2007.
For Christians who grew up in deeply religious environments in the American South, it can be shocking to discover what outsiders think of Christianity, and what their experiences with Christians have been. This book can offer a stark challenge for disciples to reach out to their neighbors with creative and sacrificial love, while avoiding some of the hurt that our co-religionists have caused.
Marin, Andrew P. Love Is an Orientation: Elevating the Conversation with the Gay Community. Downers Grove, Ill: IVP Books, 2009.
Andrew Marin grew up religious and homophobic – but after three of his best friends came out to him, he started to reconsider his unChrist-like treatment of gay people. This book doesn’t revisit the normal arguments about the Christian Bible and sexuality, nor does it argue for a revisionist ethic; instead Marin shares his journey as a missionary of Christ’s love to gay people, and offers suggestions for moving the discourse to a place of understanding and common ground. Here's a good introductory video at his blog. Andrew writes graciously and with humility, and his book is a must-read for anybody struggling with Christian sexual ethics and the challenge of loving broken people.
Mathewes-Green, Frederica, and Andrew. First Fruits of Prayer: A Forty-Day Journey Through the Canon of St. Andrew. Brewster, Mass: Paraclete Press, 2006.
We are often tempted in the Christian life to minimize and excuse our own sins, while remaining quick to name those of others. Praying through the Canon of Saint Andrew, an ancient litany of repentance, is a wonderful (and at times difficult) antidote to this tendency. Mathewes-Green provides insightful and accessible commentary, as well as a hagiography of Mary of Egypt, an important figure in Eastern Christian penitential literature.
Mathewes-Green, Frederica. The Jesus Prayer: The Ancient Desert Prayer That Tunes the Heart to God. Brewster, Mass: Paraclete Press, 2009.
Mathewes-Green invites us to meditate upon and rest in the Lord’s presence by praying without ceasing: “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner.”
Nouwen, Henri J. M. Reaching Out: The Three Movements of the Spiritual Life. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1975.
This short and outstanding essay explores the challenge of living deeply with Christ in the midst of the world.
Nouwen, Henri J. M. The Return of the Prodigal Son: A Story of Homecoming. New York: Doubleday, 1994.
This is a book-length meditation on both the parable of the prodigal son as found in the Gospel of Luke and depicted in Rembrandt’s painting. Nouwen invites us to deeper intimacy with God as he helps us identify with the father, the wayward son, and the older brother of the story.
Nouwen, Henri J. M. Show Me the Way: Readings for Each Day of Lent. New York: Crossroad, 1992.
This is a daily devotional taken from the writings of one of the twentieth century’s most beloved Christian writers.
Pennington, M. Basil. Centering Prayer: Renewing an Ancient Christian Prayer Form. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1980.
The only people who find prayer easy are those who never do it. Prayer is challenging, and meditation can be a great struggle, especially for the beginning. Pennington’s book offers a great place to start as he teaches readers to meditate upon Scripture and wait in silence upon the Lord.
Sweeney, Jon M. The St. Clare Prayer Book: Listening for God's Leading. Brewster, Mass: Paraclete Press, 2007.
This short book for daily prayers (called a breviary) is inexpensive, attractive and easy to use, and each day guides believers through seven themes in spiritual discernment and listening prayer.
Sweeney, Jon M. The St. Francis Prayer Book: A Guide to Deepen Your Spiritual Life. Brewster, Mass: Paraclete Press, 2004.
This short book for daily prayers (called a breviary) is inexpensive, attractive and easy to use, and each day guides believers through seven themes in Franciscan Christian spirituality.
Volf, Miroslav. Free of Charge: Giving and Forgiving in a Culture Stripped of Grace. Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan, 2005.
What is it like to forgive others of the most heinous crimes? What is it like to seek forgiveness for deep wrongdoing? How can we begin to forgive people who hurt us, and seek healing? Volf refuses easy answers and cheap clich├ęs as he walks through the challenges of forgiveness, mixing personal narrative with good theological thinking.
Williams, Rowan. Where God Happens: Discovering Christ in One Another. Boston: New Seeds, 2005.
It is often said of the ancient Christian spirituality of the east, that those believers knew how to judge their own sins harshly, but to show unending mercy toward the sins and weaknesses of others. In four accessible lectures, pastor and theologian Rowan Williams walks us through the thoughts and prayers of the mothers and fathers of the desert.

Ash Wednesday 2010

This is my Lenten letter to the Georgetown College community:

Dear Friends,

Greetings in the name of the Lord! As Christ followers everywhere begin our forty days of penitence and preparation for the Easter celebration, I regret that I am unable to join you in worship for an Ash Wednesday liturgy. I would like to share with you instead some short comments on how to keep a holy Lent.

Disciples of Jesus observe the Christian calendar as a way of ordering time according to the life and work of Christ. The 40 day period is intentionally evocative of Israel’s 40 years of wandering through the desert wilderness, Moses’ 40 days on Mount Sinai with God, and Jesus’ 40 day fast that marked the beginning of his public ministry. Accordingly, this is a time of greater intentionality in the spiritual life, situated in preparation for Jesus’ execution in the holy city, and his resurrection on the third day. We prepare for Easter’s joy by remembering our own fragile mortality, and engaging practices of repentance and self-denial.

The Ash Wednesday liturgy brings the stark reminder (from the book of Job), “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you will return.” We are all made of mud, but we also bear the image and likeness of God. We are also a people who suffer the effects of the Fall: the separation from God and his life that brings death into the world, and inhabits our own hearts.

Our right response to this remembrance is to open ourselves to receive God’s gift of repentance. I commend to you today’s Scripture readings, Joel 2 and Matthew 6, which offer guidance on works of repentance both public and private. We seek to return to God by agreeing with him about the sin in our lives - those attitudes and practices that destroy his life in us, and mire us in bitterness and unforgiveness against others. This is an urgent call for all of us, whether we consider ourselves highly religious, or if we have drifted from the Faith. The good news of God’s forgiveness and healing in and through Jesus Christ is offered to all of us. If you stand in the Faith, let this be a time of spiritual reading and examination of conscience. If you have drifted from the Faith, or fallen into some habitual sin, come back. It’s difficult, but it’s at least simple. Come back. People fall into sin. We say yes to evil in small ways, and these small choices turn into big and habitual choices. There’s freedom in admitting that we’re walking down the wrong road, and then turning around.

Finally, this is a time of self-denial and deliberate conformity to the cross of Jesus Christ. God himself suffered and died for our salvation. We remind ourselves of this daily, and think on it intently. We pray in that place. We offer gratitude to the Crucified. As a way of remembering and walking along side him, we fast, and practice abstinence in various ways. We fast from something good in order to gain control over our actions, or simply to deny ourselves in some way, because in the Christian faith we understand that it’s actually good and needful to deny ourselves. (I would caution you, in conformity with the command of our Lord, not to share details of your fasting with anyone but your pastor or spiritual director, and the people you live with only in so far as can and will join you in the fast.) Follow in the way of Jesus over Lent by showing love to people close by that you find it really hard to live with.

If I can offer a listening ear, reading suggestions, or advice as you take your Lenten journey with Jesus, please let me know.

Because of the difficulties presented to me by the weather and my present medical condition, I have taken furlough from work through the rest of February. I will not be on campus until then, so weekly Evening Prayer is suspended at present. I would encourage you to continue reading Scripture, praying Psalms, and practicing Lectio Divina. In the meantime, call or e-mail if you need me.

Remember that you are dust, and to dust you will return.

Pray for me, a sinner.