We are delighted to welcome our final guest blogger of 2012! The Rev. Margaret Babcock, DMin , is the director of Companion Way, a consulting and coaching service for the Church, and author of “New Growth in God’s Garden: Transforming Congregations through Mutual Ministry”, published this year by LeaderResources. An ordained Episcopal priest, Margaret worked for 20 years in congregational ministry and 10 years at the judicatory level as Canon for Ministry and Congregational Development in the Dioceses of Idaho and Wyoming.
When I was young, we always had an Advent calendar in December. Unlike the kind that I’ve seen nowadays, in which the daily door opens to reveal a new chocolate treat (to stave off starvation before the Christmas feast, I guess), ours revealed only a tissue paper picture and a short Bible verse. Those tidbits of scripture were kind of like spiritual “tweets” that eventually added up to the Christmas story. Even though we knew the story by heart, we eagerly anticipated opening each morning’s window throughout Advent. It was kind of like discovering, all over again, a treasure we knew and loved.
There is, in our Book of Common Prayer, a similar treasure which many of us know and love: Prayers and Thanksgivings (BCP pp. 809-841). These are short, beautiful prayers which address a vast swath of our common human experience from national life to natural order, from church concerns to society’s struggles. As members of Episcopal congregations, we may often flip open to this section of the Prayer Book on Sunday mornings when we acknowledge members’ birthdays, using either Prayer #50 or #51 on page 830. But so much more is hidden in these pages, so much wisdom about the human condition and the care God holds for us in all aspects of our lives, that I want to suggest Advent may be a good time to dip into this treasure trove and discover again the pictures of our relationship with God which these prayers reveal.
There are, in fact, two ways I have approached opening these prayer doors. The easiest is to go to the index on pp. 810-813 and find a subject that corresponds to a need or interest of the moment. If I am in a quandary about some aspect of my life, I might go to prayers for guidance (#57 and 58). Here, I release myself from the futility of chasing my own thoughts around through the words of others who wisely remembered to ask God’s will, and gave glory even in the midst of confusion. If I am sick at heart by helpless observation of a loved one gripped by addiction, I can turn to prayer #56 which not only gives voice to my fear but reminds me that God has not abandoned us. This way of opening specific doors in times of personal concern or need connects us not only with God, but with countless numbers men and women who have used these words before and been strengthened as God’s beloved people.
The other way I use the prayers of this section of the BCP is to choose one, memorize it, and then pray it on a daily basis for a period of time. Memorization, not a popular discipline right now, is perhaps under-rated. When I commit words to memory, it changes the way I pray them. At first I have to pay close attention to getting not only specific words, but their order, right. Then, as I remember them more easily, I move to mulling over the meaning of the prayer as it rests in my soul. It seems to engrave itself, not in my mind, but on my heart. What I have found is that, when I make the prayer mine through memorizing it, I open its door on a daily basis to find much more there than a two dimensional tissue paper picture. At the moment, I am praying “A Prayer of Self-Dedication” (#63) in this way. It’s been over two years now and I feel I’m still learning about my relationship with God as I repeat the words. It’s like gazing on the painting of a master artist, which continues to reveal more and deeper levels of meaning as I stand and gaze on it.
If chocolate treats, and scriptural “tweets” are less nourishment than you need for your Advent journey, I commend to you the Prayers and Thanksgiving section of the BCP. May the wise and beautiful words of other committed Christians who have gone before us help us all make this time of waiting, a time of spiritual growth as well.