Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Lex Orandi Lex Credendi - The Rule of Prayer is the Rule of Belief

During our Lenten series last year, we explored our liturgies of confession and absolution as a way of understanding God’s grace in the midst of human brokenness.  We recognized that each of the prayers of confession and pronouncements of absolution found in the Book of Common Prayer and Book of Alternative Services offer slightly different nuances as to how we understand our human frailty, brokenness and sinfulness, and slightly different expressions of God’s forgiving, healing and restoring grace.  One of the points discussed in our time together is that Anglican theology has typically been expressed in the shared prayers of the church, in “common prayer,” as it were.  Common prayer is not simply the name of a time-honoured prayer book, but an evolving tradition of praying together, across time and space. We pray the prayers of our fathers and mothers who have gone before us, and in doing so join with them in worship and praise. At the same time, though, new prayers emerge from the depths of our shared stories and experiences in the present day.  Our prayers become a part of the tradition. If we listen carefully to the words of prayer found in our tradition, words that are frequently grounded in Holy Scripture, we hear the story of God’s encounter with humanity come alive to us.  When we pray these prayers, we are swept into that sacred story.  We become a part of the story and it becomes a part of us.
During the Hong Kong Continuing Indaba Encounter, many of us were struck by the words of the confession that was being used in the Church of Hong Kong.  It was exactly the same as the words we pray in the Canadian modern Eucharistic liturgy, with the exception of the lines that have been bolded:

Most merciful God,
we confess that we have sinned
against you in thought, word and deed,
by what we have done,  and by what we have left undone.
We have not loved you with our whole heart;
we have not loved our neighbours as ourselves.
We are truly sorry and we humbly repent.
For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ have mercy on us,
Forgive what we have been,
Amend what we are,
And direct what we shall be,
That we may delight in you will, and walk in your ways,
to the glory of you Name. Amen. (The Holy Eucharist, Rite Two, Hong Kong Sheng Kung Hui)

We attempt to pray our prayer of confession each week intentionally and thoughtfully.  The words are a part of us and many of us can pray them without the book.  When a text becomes a part of us in such a way it is a gift.  It is a resource upon which we can draw in times of need.  We have the words to call out to God when we have done something wrong, even when we do not have a prayer book in front of us.  And yet, words like these, as dear as they are to us, can become stale at times.  We long for the spirit to wake us from our slumber.  I think that for many of us from the Canadian team, we were awoken that first day in Hong Kong when these words broke the pattern to which we were so accustomed.  At first, it was slightly frustrating – the prayer we knew and loved so well was interrupted. Quickly, though we realized it was a divine interruption, an interruption that proclaimed, “Sleeper wake! Rise from the dead and Christ will shine on you!”   These few additional words jarred us and then opened us to new possibilities, new hope, new grace: “Forgive what we have been, amend what we are and direct what we shall be,” are words that invited us into the story of grace in a new and meaningful way.  They are entirely consistent with what we believe, and yet, their sense of newness helped us to prayer an old familiar prayer in a fresh and thoughtful way.  As the week unfolded, many of us worked this additional line into our theology of confession and absolution, our theology of sin and grace, and into our theology of hope.   We believe as we pray and pray as we believe.

c. 2012, the Rev. Daniel F. Graves