Friday, November 16, 2007
Bishop Laura's Interview, Part III: A Confession, and Some Recommendations
3. What kind of personal prayer/spiritual practices do you find most nourishing?
According to Bishop Laura, we now are into "geeky spiritual director" territory! Here's where these damned feet of clay slip out from under my nice preaching robe for all the world to see. WHEN I engage in prayer/ spiritual practices, I am deeply, deeply nourished. For me, the things that work are: daily scripture reading, saying the daily office, and using other fairly structured helps.
Daily scripture reading is something I almost always do. However, it is often utilitarian in purpose, as I am preparing a sermon. In 2006 I used the One Year Bible and made it all the way through, for the first time in my life. This is not the ideal way to read scripture, in my opinion. It makes it more of a challenge, an obstacle to overcome. I definitely had this idea that I "had" to get through it. Scripture is powerful enough, of course, that it broke through that mindset often enough. But I prefer to read in a way that is more like Lectio Divina. This takes me out of my goal-oriented way of reading, and allows me to savor scripture, even get to a place beyond meaning and interpretation. My favorite line on how to read scripture comes from Macrina Wiederhehr, who said, "When God comes in the first verse, why go on to the second?"
It's wonderful, potent, mind-altering. When I do it.
I also love saying the Daily Office. The Presbyterian Book of Common Worship Daily Prayer book has a format for this that is very like the traditional Roman Catholic Breviary, or the Episcopal/ Anglican Book of Common Prayer. I recently discovered that Bishop Laura has written a "Sophia Psalter" and version of Compline (night time prayer) in which she uses feminine language for naming God. For someone like me, whose tradition is "not there" yet in terms of the language we use in public worship, using this privately can be a powerful and healing experience. Leave her a comment if you want a copy. I opened up the file and nearly swooned, it is that good.
Here is what happens to me when I pray in this way. Immediately upon saying the opening sentences of scripture... "O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth shall declare your praise," I am taken into another kind of consciousness. As I pray, I experience a kind of pleasure... I am sure it's a neurological response... that I feel in the top of my head, towards the forehead. My breathing slows, and I experience a sense of being connected with God which is, if I'm honest, pretty damned scary. I don't do it often. It is the kind of thing that could take over.
Part of this is that saying the Daily Office connects me with my earliest experiences of deep prayer and spiritual searching when I was 13, 14 years old. At that time a fantastic priest, Father J H, presented me with two books, Praise Him! and Bless the Lord! The former is for "ordinary time," and offers a kind of beginners' daily prayer (from a Roman Catholic perspective); the latter is similarly simple, and covers Advent, Christmas, Lent and Eastertide. They wer both written by William G. Storey. [When I typed his name into Amazon to search for the books, I discovered that he has more recently written A Book of Prayer: for Gay and Lesbian Christians.] The gift of these books taught me to pray; I can't say much more than that.
I have also used another book, A Prayer Book for Remembering the Women: Morning and Evening Prayer for an Inclusive Church by J. Frank Henderson, with hymn texts by Mary Louise Bringle. [Henderson has also complied Remembering the Women, an important lectionary resource that every minister and priest should have, in my humble opinion. This compilation offers alternative passages for every Sunday of the three-year lectionary cycle, passages that either tell women's stories, use feminine images for God, passages that used imagery based on the physical experiences of women, or passages that refer to the female figure of Holy Wisdom.]
As I have already said, I do best with the structure these resources provide. They are all grounded in scripture, and I thrive when I am able to immerse myself in that world. All is well.
So why don't I do it consistently? The other morning I took part in a conference call. The person who led devotions read to us from Barbara Brown Taylor's book, Leaving Church. This is a book that is on the tall pile next to my bed, a pile that hasn't been getting shorter. I have yet to crack it. Am I afraid? I'm sure I am. When one of the "dozen best preachers in the English language" has to leave pastoral ministry because she burns out, damn right it makes me afraid.
My colleague read to us a selection about Taylor's knowledge that she had tools at her disposal-- prayer, scripture, meditation-- to nurture herself in her ministry, and her total inability to do so. "I pecked God on the cheek, like I pecked my husband, and slowly died inside from lack of making love."
Hear, O church. Hear, O ministers. Hear, O Magdalene. This is the Word of the Lord.
I leave you with a tidbit from A Prayerbook for Remembering the Women. It is one of Bringle's hymn texts, from the week-long cycle on Holy Wisdom. It can be sung to any hymn tune in Common Meter, 86.86. (Examples of this are Forest Green and Amazing Grace.)
Through silver veils of morning mist
break rays of golden sun.
In amethyst and ruby skies
a new day has begun.
More treasured yet than silver, gold,
or any precious gem,
God's wisdom breaks upon the earth
and wakes our morning hymn.
A radiant and unfading light
now shines before our eyes,
with insight for all minds that seek
and truth to make us wise.
Sophia calls us to the feast
of wine and living bread,
where fruits of grace and peace abound
where hungry hearts are fed.
With Huldah, Hannah, Miriam,
and womenfolk unnamed,
we cherish our inheritance
of prophecy proclaimed:
The needy shall be lifted up.
The weak shall be made strong.
And Wisdom's flowering tree of life
shall blossom in our song.
PS: I love trees.