Vol I No. 7
Theology & Liturgy

The Prayer Book Way of Prayer and Study

by The Very Revd Dr William Willoughby III, EDD

A lot has been said about the return to basics. Many writers and commentators have chosen to engage what has become a popular “sound bite” as if it were a mantra or incantation which by its very repetition will solve all our problems. Basics for Christians is not merely a matter of following a set of rules and regulations or a set pattern for living but attempting to live one’s life as a pilgrim”. Pursuing an intentional relationship with God and neighbor in light of divine revelation. North American society is formed and rooted in the vision of the Enlightenment, with its heavy emphasis on the rational and the need to objectify all interactions. In recent years, agreement concerning this has been breaking down and everything seems up for grabs as it relates to objectivity and truth. Because our culture does not easily hold in tension the intuitional with the rational a combination constantly called upon in the pilgrim life of every Christian, we have all become subject to the whims of the cultural manipulators. The Rev. Dr. John Westerhoff points out concerning the challenge of leading the Church in the chaos of the current culture that first, we must realize that it is not so much hostile as it is indifferent. This is primarily a result of having reached the moral limits of the Enlightenment, with its natural culmination in the privatization and relativization of religion in our culture. Considering this insight, what does Dr. Westerhoff suggest we do as Church? Work hard at forming a community that values the intuitive way of thinking and knowing. Cultivate the imaginative side of our way of engaging life and emphasize that God makes his way and will known to us in Revelation. We tend to study things to death. Instead of engaging scripture prayerfully, we study and objectify it. The same with prayer, instead of practicing contemplation and other various forms of prayer, we study them. Maybe instead of asking the question, what can I get out of prayer and Scripture, we might ask what scripture and prayer expects of us, how it holds us accountable, and what kind of dialogue it leads us into. The classic model for entering cooperative action with prayer and scripture is the Benedictine formula for praying the daily office. The first step is contemplation – spending time clearing your head of the cares and the occupations of the day. Next, we are asked to engage the scriptural reading. Absorbing it slowly and reading it multiple times if necessary. For conversation to begin a period of silence is in order. The Canticle which follows is designed to help us release and clear our minds for the next action. For some people, the recitation of the daily office is not possible or particularly helpful, but the pattern just suggested can be used with any engagement of prayer, scripture, or intercession. We have been invited to the observance of a holy Lent. On Ash Wednesday we were called to a period of self-examination and repentance; Prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and reading and meditating on God’s holy Word. Let us consider how we might better cooperate with the vision inherent in these words and observe with devotion the days of our Lord’s passion, putting to mind the message of pardon and absolution set forth in the Gospel of our Savior and the need which all Christians continually must renew our repentance and faith. Also consider how attendance at a weekday Eucharist, the public recitation of the daily office, Sunday Forums, and Book Studies or Bible Studies along with Stations of the Cross might enable or encourage each of us in our pilgrimage.