Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Helping Our Lenten Listening

Scripture for the First Sunday in Lent includes Deuteronomy 26:5-11; Romans 10:8b-13; Luke 4:1-13

Our liturgy this morning has four fresh features. First, a poem following the prelude has invited us to Lenten listening. Madeline chose this first poem, Mary Oliver’s “Mysteries, Yes”. I’m eager to know if you have a poem you think may fit this Lenten season.

We have already experienced a second special feature: hearing the Ten Commandments revoiced, not reinvented but aimed more deliberately into our own language and categories. The source is our Prayer Book catechism, hardly a hotbed of iconoclastic revolt—more a laboratory for relevance. I find the strength of these updated commandments their offering a tool for self-examination, and that is one of the missionary marks of Lent. On Ash Wednesday morning, between the early service and the noontime worship, our organ tuners arrived to tune the organ. Their work, from church to church, is re-voicing pipes to sound as they should, to better resemble the instrument they imitate, and to be true in pitch. That’s not a bad image to express why, by custom on the first Sunday in Lent, we return to the Ten Commandments.

Second among our liturgical experiments today will be the Prayers of the People. In Washington, D.C., this weekend, thousands of people will have gathered to protest the proposed Keystone XL pipeline project, linking Alberta, Canada, to refineries in Texas and the Gulf Coast, delivering oil derived from tar sands through a new pipeline constructed largely in the United States . The issue is about to be determined by the US Secretary of State and the Obama administration. Phil McKnight will speak about this complex subject at next Saturday morning’s breakfast here, which is open to all. He observes that the environmental challenges and the economic opportunities wrapped up in the Keystone XL project are quite simply enormous.

This morning, we are short one tenor in our choir because Ben is there in Washington, as a protestor. I promised him we would be thinking of him and praying with him, this morning. To make good on that, we’ll use a litany that I found online and gently adapted, written originally by Thabo Makgoba, Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town.

While I was prospecting online, I came across a collect which I could hear as a post-communion prayer, so we’ll find that moment in worship also recalling us to treat the world as God’s gift.

And our third different dance step today will be the Lord’s Prayer. “Not again?” I imagine someone asking, assuming I mean a return to the contemporary form that our Book of Common Prayer places in our toolkit. But no, I want you to meet a form that is new to me, so I’ll guess it will be a debut for you as well, though its source, “A New Zealand Prayer Book”, dates to 1989.

Why now? We’ve begun a Confirmation preparation group for teenagers, with Laurie Glover and me as leaders. We decided to acquire the curriculum “Confirm, Not Conform”, and one of its sessions on prayer includes a comparison of several versions of the central foundational prayer Jesus taught his disciples. The very fact that the Church knows several versions dispels the notion that Jesus’s prayer is a talisman, a formula whose every word must be said in a certain order, for the charm to work. Rather, his prayer is a digest of his central teachings, a wonderfully memorable way to remember all that matters most.

I know, I know: mucking about with various forms deprives us of that one wonderfully memorable way to remember. So we are justly attached to the form we call traditional, dating back to the 1662 English Book of Common Prayer. It’s worth mentioning that the 1552 Prayer Book directed the priest to say the prayer (though not quite the way we know it) verse by verse, the people repeating each petition after him in call-and-response—which may have been a way to honor that sense of the prayer being a collection of teachings, an outline of the faith, a little catechism.

Taken that way, the Lord’s Prayer is a set of six summonses. A single word reminds us of each.

Hallowed: Find holiness, help God make holy all of life through your life.

Kingdom: Let what matters most matter most.

Bread: Receive life as gift; share the food security you have.

Forgive: Imitate God, let grudges go, and be forgiven.

Temptation: Open your heart to courage and your mind to wisdom.

Power: Let God be God.

How central these summonses are is seen in how well they bind us to Christ in the desert, where his forty days are intimately about hallowing, kingdom, bread, temptation, power.

Whether you’re eager to encounter what is new, or fearing a wilderness experience, let’s meet this new form, on page 5 of your leaflet. This time, let me read it aloud.

Eternal Spirit,
Earth-maker, Pain-bearer, Life-giver,
Source of all that is and that shall be,
Father and Mother of us all,
Loving God, in whom is heaven:
The hallowing of your name echo through the universe!
The way of your justice be followed by the peoples of the world!
Your heavenly will be done by all created beings!
Your commonwealth of peace and freedom sustain our hope and come on earth.
With the bread we need for today, feed us.
In the hurts we absorb from one another, forgive us.
In times of temptation and test, strengthen us.
From trials too great to endure, spare us.
From the grip of all that is evil, free us.
For you reign in the glory of the power that is love,
now and for ever. Amen.

There’s a lot to notice. Let me recall what our Foundations group members said they noticed. Its length. Its use of “commonwealth” as a term for social and spiritual unity, heard also in the Iona Community Creed. Its several names for God, one of which—Pain-bearer—felt particularly surprising, until two lines later “Mother” reminds us of childbirth.

I notice the series of exclamation marks, stressing the summons nature of the prayer, markers for how this prayer is to be prayed: with longing, zeal, urgency, determination.

I notice how this prayer sets us in the stunning, diverse, amazing place we occupy: in a universe, among peoples of the world, and in a created order whose creatures, all of them, are capable of doing God’s will-- much like Narnia, C. S. Lewis’s realm we’re exploring, this Lent, where the arrogance of the human spirit is chastened by the revelation that, in Narnia, you may be on precisely the same spiritual level as a badger or a mouse. So writes former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams. This awareness of our place in the cosmos, among the nations, and nestled among species is so New Zealand, so expressive of that culture; and, I hope, conducive to helping us weave together our faith and our responsibility to care for the earth.

Will this form of the Lord’s Prayer vie with the traditional version? Probably not. But it deserves to be heard and received as a gift from another continent within our Anglican Communion, a fresh voice that may help us with our Lenten listening.