In August 2004, having just bought my first house, I found myself with a lot to thank God for, so I started a website (dailyoffice.org) to reproduce in handy form the psalms, lessons and prayers of Morning and Evening Prayer. The site currently averages about 100 visitors a day—not huge numbers, but I’m glad to be a part of an emerging community. There are a lot of Episcopal churches that would be happy to have 100 people on a Sunday morning, much less every day. The site has greatly enhanced my own prayer life, but it’s also come with a not-unexpected cost: the mechanics of it keep me from praying; or rather, they become the prayer.
Every day I change the readings. At first I did all the typing myself, saving each psalm or scripture lesson as a separate file. Later I found other resources online which allow me to copy and paste, and now my hard drive contains hundreds, maybe thousands of these building blocks. In the course of a couple of months, we read every psalm, and over a two-year period we read pretty much the entire Bible. The Daily Office is a very good thing, which is why Christians have used it almost from day one. (Muslims and Jews have similar practices with their holy readings.) But what this means for the worship leader (me) is that I mostly just plug in the readings of the day, then go on about my business. It’s plenty time-consuming doing just that. I’m able to add music, art and sometimes podcasts, so there’s creativity involved too; when disaster happens I might write a prayer for that. But I don’t usually pray except in the course of performing these tasks. That’s been great but it’s not the same thing as sitting in the online pew and praying with the unseen congregation.
In the past few months I lost a job and started drinking heavily. That had to stop or I’d be dead. We all know that the best advice for drunks is to go to AA; unfortunately they speak a language there that I cannot understand no matter how much I try. AA seems like a cult to me and I always feel like an outsider. What to do?
Somehow through the grace of God I came up with something that does work for me: taking the first great insights of AA and translating it into a language I can speak. Addiction is, at bottom, primarily a spiritual problem. Alcoholism is a kind of crucifixion, self-performed.
WANH, SYSTEM ERROR! BOMBS AWAY!
I found myself (or God gave me) a spiritual advisor, a local Disciples of Christ minister who for many years has practiced the form of meditation known as centering prayer. You can learn more about it here.
At last I am praying again, although now with far fewer words—those human constructs on which my professional life is built (and on which all Episcopalians are utterly dependent). I found this method of prayer kind of scary at first, because entering into it required me to consent to the very solution I was resisting: that God is in charge, not I. It was obvious I couldn’t run my own life anymore, but turning over the steering wheel to God took some major growing up in faith.
I have one word I rely on, what the practitioners of contemplative prayer call a Sacred Word; it’s different for each person. Mine is “surrender.” Whenever my mind starts to wander amidst the quiet contemplation of God, I repeat my word, which draws me back again.
I’m sober now. I like my life. I’m grateful for it, because I came very close to losing it; scary close.
Although I am a baby in contemplative practice, I do have my “confessor” Tom to discuss things with. He says, and I believe, that while “nothing” takes place during contemplation, it transforms the rest of our day and the rest of our lives. I am beginning to see some changes in myself, and thus I’ve created this blog.
Will it be useful to anyone else? Will it even be read? Probably not, but that doesn’t matter. This isn’t about me, or you, but about God; my gay spirit is finally free, after years of being shackled by my… sin.
God is God and I am not.
After 50 years of saying, “Your will be done, on earth as in heaven,” I’ve finally got to the place of praying, “Your will, not mine.” That is the beginning of wisdom.
This is the day the LORD has made: *
let us rejoice and be glad in it.++