Reflections to start the week
Monday, November 18, 2013
I did not come to the Episcopal Church until I was in my 20’s. I was drawn by artful and inquiring preaching, but also by the beauty of the prayers, the music, and, at the church I attended in New York, the architecture. Each of those elements spoke to me of grace, as I experienced the power of the psalmist’s call to worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.
But there was a lot that was perplexing. Case in point: Near the beginning of the service, I saw in the bulletin that there would be a collect of the day. Scanning quickly down the lineup of events, and mindful of cash (or lack thereof) in my young adult wallet, I noted the offertory as well. Collect and offertory? Do they pass the plate twice? Can I afford this?
I came to know that the collect was about prayer, not revenue enhancement. I came to pay attention to the collects. In our tradition, we say that prayer shapes believing. These prayers, polished over the centuries in the stream of the communion of saints, teach us tons about what we believe. That is especially true of the distinctive collect read yesterday in church, read around this time each year, printed in the side column.
It’s notable because it focuses on scripture, and calls us to spiritual growth, as we take successive steps in our engagement with scripture. I often say that if you want to know what a liturgy is about, look at the verbs in the prayers. As this collect calls us to scripture, note the verbs, which indicate deeper and deeper engagement.
We hear. We put ourselves within earshot of scripture. It connotes nothing more or less than openness. We don’t shut it out. It’s at least worth attention. Pretty low level of commitment, but a first step
We read. We see what it says. One priest I know says we not only read scripture. We let it read us. At this stage in the collect, we simply crank up the attention we pay to scripture. Maybe we even make it a point to do so as some kind of daily habit or spiritual practice.
We mark. We try to notice something important, some intersection with our experience, something that leaps out at us, maybe something that irritates us.
We learn. That’s what disciples are. Learners. We begin to apply it to our lives. We let it teach us stuff we didn’t know before, adopting that stance of humility that admits we don’t know everything, and we don’t know what we don’t know. As a result, we are different because of scripture.
We inwardly digest. Scripture becomes part of us. It is incorporated in who we are.
And, oh by the way, why do we do all this? Why do we engage with these ancient texts? The collect says that it is for the sake of experiencing hope. And come on, who could not benefit from a bit more hope?
As you think about your own spiritual journey, are you looking for a way to go deeper? The promise of this prayer, the experience of Christians of all kinds of persuasion, is that engagement with scripture will transform us, as Martin Luther suggested. You don’t have to like everything you read. You might want to read a passage and write down your reactions, insights, questions, things that warm your heart, things that make you mad. But it’s something we are each called to do. As one pastor said to his congregation: “I can’t read the Bible for you.” We each have the opportunity, the responsibility, the challenge, the grace of encountering God in scripture. What steps can you take to go deeper in that encounter, maybe starting this Monday morning.
Rev. Jay Sidebotham
RenewalWorks is a ministry of Forward Movement.