Our Daily Bread

That Blessed Dependancy

“Furthermore, by this order the curates shall need none other books for their public service, but this book and the Bible…”

From the Preface to the First Book of Common Prayer (1549)

It was my privilege and delight last fall to teach an adult Sunday School class called “The Bible and the Book of Common Prayer.” The syllabus for the course was nothing more than the Table of Contents found in the BCP, and the stated goal was to explore the ways in which the Prayer Book puts the words of Scripture on our lips, plants the teachings of Scripture deep in our hearts, and conforms the rhythms of our lives to Scripture’s great story.

In sixteen weeks of forty-five minute sessions, we covered a rough history of both the Bible and the Prayer Book, traced the arc of the Calendar of the Church Year, reflected on the roots and…

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Prayer as Second-Nature

Was thinking about this post yesterday when conversing about prayer, familiarity, change, and growth…

hope of things not seen

Back in June, when I made my first voyage back to my hometown* (Durham), about ten minutes out from my best friend’s home, I realized that we NEEDED cheese for our Sunday night repast. Flipping my brain quickly into cheese-emergency mode, I thought, “Must get to Whole Foods (only cheesey place open on Sunday nights). Where am I now? How to get there fast?” And my brain then did a very funny thing. It shut off. I exited the interstate, and my arms felt like they were moving themselves, turning the wheel; my foot had a mind of its own, pressing the brake and the gas. And then, I turned up in the Whole Foods parking lot–presto! What a strange thing to happen, I thought, that my brain wouldn’t do the think-through-the-map-you-keep-stashed-in-your-mind, calculating distances and times and the length of stoplights…

It dawned on me: my brain had done that…

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the morning after

when I woke up the first morning as Mrs. Hylden, the morning after our wedding, I came to a discouraging realization: I am still the same person I was yesterday.

I had this strange, unexpressed expectation that when I got married, I’d change–overnight.  I’d become a grownup and I’d brim with that patience and generosity and perspective that I’d always struggled to cultivate.

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The morning of May 30th, I got up with an extra band of gold on my finger, a new name and a new commitment, but I didn’t really feel any different, and I surely was not magically oozing fruits of the Spirit.

Yesterday, I tried making gluten-free gnocchi for the first time.  Longer than forming the dough, rolling and cutting the individual gnocchi(s?), was the shopping–three grocery stores later, I only had to make one (not super effective) substitution.  As I was chasing down new ingredients and throwing myself into the deep end of gluten-free substitutions (having mastered gluten-ed substitutions awhile ago), I fought my frustration at the glacial pace and inefficiency of the whole process.  Scouring shelves, rereading recipes and searching google on my phone to find “substitutions for sweet white rice flour,” made me realize the same thing I’d learned when I woke up May 30th, 2011: Life takes time.

Earlier this year, a dear colleague from the cathedral took a new job; at a party, a parishioner asked her about the new work.  Reflecting on the joys and challenges of inhabiting a position with both promise and little preconceived shape, she said of change, “It keeps you honest.”  Rather than being lulled into complacency by certainty and repetition, changing circumstances encourage us to grow in uncomfortable but transforming ways.  We never wake up one morning having arrived, we (or at least I) rarely complete our to-do lists in one day, and no one–ourselves or others–change as quickly as we hope they would.  Life takes time.

Time to adjust to a new lifestyle–job, diet, exercise regimen, environment.

Time to heal from wounds–relational or physical.

Time to change our habits, learn new skills, be transformed into new people.

“Be present, O merciful God, and protect us through the hours of this night; so that we who are wearied by the changes and chances of this life may rest in your eternal changelessness; through Jesus Christ our Lord(Collect for Compline, BCP page 132)

Morning Prayer & I-85 Exits

Back in June, when I made my first voyage back to my hometown* (Durham), about ten minutes out from my best friend’s home, I realized that we NEEDED cheese for our Sunday night repast. Flipping my brain quickly into cheese-emergency mode, I thought, “Must get to Whole Foods (only cheesey place open on Sunday nights). Where am I now? How to get there fast?” And my brain then did a very funny thing. It shut off. I exited the interstate, and my arms felt like they were moving themselves, turning the wheel; my foot had a mind of its own, pressing the brake and the gas. And then, I turned up in the Whole Foods parking lot–presto! What a strange thing to happen, I thought, that my brain wouldn’t do the think-through-the-map-you-keep-stashed-in-your-mind, calculating distances and times and the length of stoplights…

It dawned on me: my brain had done that exact thing so many times on those exact streets that it didn’t need to think anymore. Living in St. Louis, and now in Columbia, I can get around very well, but my mind is constantly calculating and reorienting itself to remember where things are located and how the streets line up. My mind didn’t have to think through routes from here to there because it’d been making that route in my brain so long, through so many seasons of road construction and rain, that my body–in a way–just knew how to get where I wanted to go.

It wasn’t like that in the beginning, back in 2004. I knew one way to get from point A to point B, and though it may have been super-inefficient, I wasn’t going to abandon that route for anything. Gradually, I added more mental map and I colored in the way traffic affected roads at various times of day–eventually, I knew the roads so well, they were just part of me, my arms and legs could take over.

Back in 2008, I prayed Morning Prayer for the first time. I was in one of the hard, straight-backed wooden pews at St. Joseph’s Episcopal Church in Durham. I didn’t know which page we started on, I didn’t know how to choose readings or canticles or collects (or exactly what “collects” were) or when to stand or kneel. It was uncomfortable and foreign and not very enjoyable, but it was required for Confirmation, which I’d decided to undergo for some reason, and so I mouthed the words and listened.

20130925-173749.jpgI was committed to leading one of the Daily Offices (Morning, Noonday, Evening Prayer, and Compline) every week of the academic year, which roughly lined up to our time as catechumens, preparing for Confirmation in the Episcopal Church. Further, we were to pray this set of Offices every day by ourselves, if we didn’t show up at church for it. I was overwhelmed and a little bit rebellious. I didn’t stick with it well at all over winter break that year. By the next summer, a newly minted Episcopalian for just over a year, my field education supervisor expected me to pray Morning Prayer with him every day in our parish’s chapel, and though I felt a bit rebellious here too (when I led, I used contemporary language), I think that is when I fell in love with the Daily Office. Those weeks cemented something in me; some mornings I almost cried through the prayers, I was so tired, so humiliated, so lonely. But every morning, those words were there again, and in a way, that time and place–8 a.m. in St. Agnes’ Chapel–became sacred and became home.

I returned to Durham and to St. Joe’s that autumn, to the people and place that had already been with me through plenty of change and confusion. Morning Prayer was no longer a burden, a commitment that I’d made and felt imprisoned to keep, but a joy and delight–a place and time where I kept meeting God in the words I said and heard.

A little more than a year ago, I arrived late to a service of Morning Prayer in the parish I was serving in Missouri; I jumped right into the canticle being recited, and then I just forgot to pick up a prayer book. The rest of the service had hidden itself in my memory and in my heart. My brain turned off and the words easily came out of my mouth. Just like my body knew exactly how to drive my car to the grocery store, my heart practiced and found its way to God in Morning Prayer.

Years ago, when I started eating breakfast at St. Joe’s with who ever showed up for eggs and grits, they gave me a key, for the mornings that I’d be the first one there to start the coffee.  I still keep that key on my key chain to remember the place and people who re-introduced me to Jesus.

Last week, a dear friend of mine said, “Sometimes big things are the easy things to be courageous about; the little things are hard.” Why can we commit to things like marriage and jobs, but find it so difficult to commit to something like daily prayer, Scripture memorization, or keeping up with pen pals?

(postscript: this is the community now)

One Sure Thing

20130906-105958.jpgLast weekend, I was in Cooperstown, New York. This is the place where I learned what it was to be a parish priest, where I fell in love with the vocation, and where I’ve been stretched and challenged within an inch of my life to do my best at that job. The places (geographically) where great pain is experienced and lived through are sites of enormous comfort. When I return to Cooperstown, or Grand Lake, or Durham, I feel like the rocks and trees and wooden siding of buildings understand me and are full of those powerful memories–they’re witnesses to the battles fought.

People are witnesses, too, of course, and they can be a comfort, but there’s something about buildings and mountains and lakes and particular bits of earth (on which one stands and remembers a vantage point) that is somehow deeper, perhaps because of their stability and unchangingness. The unsettling thing is that even cities, buildings, and bits of earth change. You remember your backyard growing up as a place of great meaning, but when you return to your childhood home decades later, it’s almost unrecognizable–the trees have grown so that the sun is not at all the same, the new owners have re-modeled the flower beds; it’s not the same place anymore, the place you knew is lost.

God promises, though, that he is the same yesterday, today and forever. In this week’s Epistle lesson, Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16, we hear the witness of faithful people in the past who believed and trusted that, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (v. 8). This is what the church’s Gloria Patri says (“Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit; as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever, amen.”).

The first part of Hebrews 13 recalls Abraham, Joseph, and the prophets by their faith-filled acts: Abrahahm “show(s) hospitality to strangers, for by doing that (he) entertained angels without knowing it” (v.2); Joseph was first sold into slavery, then was imprisoned unjustly (v. 3) but didn’t turn away from God because of his circumstances; and the prophets, fairly described as “those who are being tortured” (v. 3) exactly because they refused to turn from God–to renege on God’s promise of being unchanging himself.

“Let marriage be held in honor by all… for he has said, ‘I will never leave you or forsake you.'” (vs.4-5) The witness of Christian marriage is an effort at humans committing–in God’s strength–to be faithful to each other despite changes in themselves and their circumstances. This is the commitment that God makes to us–that he will never leave or forsake each of us, that he will be with us when we have no home like Abraham, or when we are isolated like Joseph, or when we are being persecuted like the prophets. God remains the same, even when we change and when our worlds change.

“Be present, O merciful God, and protect us through the hours of this night, so that we who are wearied by the changes and chances of this life may rest in your eternal changelessness; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”

(BCP service of Compline, pg. 133)

I have fallen in love with Henry Purcell

Our choir has been singin’ Purcell’s “I was glad” like it’s their job (ahem, “vocation”–and indeed, it is!).  His setting of Psalm 122 has been crawling around the corners of my mind and heart since I first heard it a few weeks ago at choir camp.

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Check out a recording here (listen to the young ladies of Trinity–and men–at the 11:15am service’s Anthem, and to the adult choir’s Anthem at Evensong from this past Sunday, the 18th).

And the psalm itself, as a meditation this cloudy Tuesday morning:

1 I was glad when they said unto me: We will go into the house of the Lord.

2 Our feet shall stand in thy gates: O Jerusalem.

3 Jerusalem is built as a city: that is at unity in itself.

4 For thither the tribes go up, even the tribes of the Lord: to testify unto Israel, to give thanks
unto the Name of the Lord.

5 For there is the seat of judgement: even the seat of the house of David.

6 O pray for the peace of Jerusalem: they shall prosper that love thee.

7 Peace be within thy walls: and plenteousness within thy palaces.

8 For my brethren and companions’ sakes: I will wish thee prosperity.

9 Yea, because of the house of the Lord our God: I will seek to do thee good.

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