Tuesday, February 16, 2010

New and Contrite Words

It's been a very long time since I used the 1979 BCP but my "in residence" at Bishop's Ranch requires me to use it every day. I used to think it wasn't too awful; now, for the most part, I can't bear it. It's out of date, its theology is full of the trumped up language of sacrifice wished on us by Radbertus and Hincmar after Charlemagne's slaughter of the Saxons. No one knows what "penitence" means any longer, and being berated about "sin"—the word more than the concept—is enough to make anyone weep, far more because of the notion of God that is implied by its context than the word itself. I am sick of this book; I am sick of the hyperverbosity of the thing. I have slashed the Offices. We have half an hour's silence before them; say only the opening sentences and canticle, the psalms and one lesson. Then five more minutes of silence. Then one more canticle, the Lord's Prayer, often omitting the suffrages and only two collects; then another ten minutes of silence. Even this seems like too much noise. I'm thinking of cutting to one canticle and one collect. Evening Prayer is the most difficult as I love both the Phos Hilaron and the Magnificat, but not this translation, which seems clumsy and poorly cadenced.

Before my colleague and I had a chance to talk about Lent and Holy Week, and before I had taken a horrified look at the 1979 BCP's language, we'd agreed to do the Litany this coming Sunday. But that's the only cry from Sheol there's going to be—at least in the old breast-beating language that seems rather more in the style of professional mourners than those seeking simplicity and purity of heart. As Isaac of Nineveh pointed out, God went to all this trouble simply to show the extent of his love—nothing about appeasement, or blood guilt, or any of the rest of the voyeuristic sado-masochism of the late Christian West. The following quotation is from Book II, translated by Sebastian Brock and quoted in The Fountain and the Furnace, pp. 316-317.

"I myself say that God did all this for no other reason, but only in order to make known to the world the love that He has, His aim being that, as a result of our greater love arising out of an awareness of this, we might be captivated by His love [or into love of Him], when He provided the occasion of [this manifestation] of the kingdom of heaven's great potency—which consists in love—by means of the death of His Son.

"The whole purpose of our Lord's death was not to deliver us from sins, or for any other reason, but solely in order that the world might perceive/become aware of the love God had for creation. Had all this astounding affair taken place solely for the purpose of forgiveness of sins, it would have been sufficient to deliver/redeem [us] by some other means. For who would have made an objection if He had done what he did by means of an ordinary death? But He did not make His death at all ordinary—in order that you might realise the nature of this mystery. Rather, He tasted death in the cruel sufferings of the Cross. What was the need for the outrage done to Him and the spitting? Just death and in particular His death, without any of these other things which took place, would have sufficed for our salvation/redemption. What wisdom, filled with life is God's!"

We are going to radically redo the liturgies for this Lent and Holy Week, and to that end, here are some draft collects. Your comments/contributions/suggestions are very welcome.

Ash Wednesday

Merciful God, you hate nothing you have made, and enfold in your love all who turn to you: Create and make in us new and truthful hearts, that our guilt and wretchedness may open us to your forgiveness which brings us new life; through Jesus Christ our Lord who suffered shame and death to show us the extent of your love. Amen.

I Lent [after Olivier Clément]

God of strength, you led Jesus into the desert to be exposed to the seduction of demonic power: come quickly to help us in the wasteland of our selfishness; and grant us the knowledge that even as we fall through despair your hand is ever there to save us, for your love's sake. Amen.

II Lent [after Irenaeus]

Lord of Light, you have shown us that your glory rejoices to give us fullness of life; help us to know that our glory is the steadfast beholding of you, from whom all healing flows through Jesus Christ. Amen.

III Lent

O Lord, our refuge and strength, grant us clarity in this noisy and toxic world to make choices that protect our bodies from physical harm and our minds from dehumanizing images. Help us listen to the body's wisdom that less is more, so that our souls may share in your self-outpouring glory revealed to us in Jesus Christ. Amen.

IV Lent

Gracious God, your blessèd Son Jesus Christ emptied himself to become the bread of life for us: evermore help us to open ourselves to your indwelling life, that we may behold you in one another; who lives and reigns through the Holy Spirit now and for ever. Amen.

V Lent

Almighty God, as we approach the celebration of the unfathomable mystery of your crucified love; help us to follow the way of the cross, mindful that 'in returning and rest we shall be saved,' and that 'in quietness and trust shall be our strength;' through him who was raised up to draw the eyes of our hearts, and heal us from the poison of self-regard; and who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, now and for ever. Amen.


And just for good measure, here are a few of the saints:

Thomas Bray

O living Word, we remember with joy Thomas Bray
whose humble love of knowledge expanded literacy in the New World. Help us, like him, to listen with attention and receptivity to the wisdom of which language is but a gesture, for your love's sake. Amen.

Absalom Jones

O God, whose service is perfect freedom, we thank you for the life of Absalom Jones whose vision of the unfettered dignity of every human being remained steadfast in the face of bigotry and persecution. Grant that we may grow in humility and respect before the mystery of each and every person, through Jesus Christ, our Lord, in whom you consented to die the death of a slave for our sake. Amen.

Martin Luther

God of Mercy, your Word spoke to Martin Luther in the midst of his anguish, showing him the boundless love of your grace freely given; and you bestowed on him the courage to speak truth to power. Grant that we may ever be vigilant for the human tendency to reduce religion to magic; to earn what is freely given; to substitute experience for beholding; and give us the strength to expose corruption wherever we may find it, through Jesus your Son who came into the world to witness to the truth. Amen


Anonymous dFish said...

I like these collects.
I'm not sure if you are familiar with the works of Jane Richardson Jensen (PhD on the feminine images of the Holy Spirit in the works of St. Ephrem the Syrian). I have one of her books She Who Prays: A Woman's Interfaith Prayer Book. In the book are some Collects i really like because they engage Mother Earth. Here's one sample:

"LIFE-GIVER, we praise you for the many different kinds of landforms there are on the Earth. Mother Earth has such a variety of features from the heights of Mt. Everest to the depths of the Grand Canyon and so much in between. We appreciate the landforms themselves and the life that each sustains, from the water lilies and alligators of the swamps, to the frogs of the fens, to the cacti and snakes of the mesas, deserts and dry places. Whether the form is high or low, flat or round and craggy, whether it's near water and wooded or in a dry barren place, all add to the health of the planet's ecosystem. Guide us in being partners with the landforms that share the Earth with us. Amen."

Lent-wise, i'm musing how for example the urgent issue of ecology could essentially be part of my prayers.

Another excellent resource i have is one by Anglican priest John Carden A Procession of Prayers: Meditations and Prayers from Around the World. The language is very engaging to pray with. Here's one sample prayer:

"Lord of all creation,
showing your glory in ever changing matter,
who took flesh and blood
to body forth your presence,
may the very stones cry out your life and love."

I will try use Carden's book more often this Lent because the book is sequenced according to the "mysteries" of the life of Jesus - from birth to death.

Two years ago, i used the New Zealand Prayer Book because of the clarity of its language. Now i swing back to the RC Divine Office because of the frequent citations of the Psalms which i love to pray.

12:37 am, February 17, 2010  
Blogger Annie said...

Not that I am any authority, but I like your collects. I would like to know more about what you think should not be/ should be in the BCP. I, for one, would especially like to see more silence encouraged and time set aside for it.

4:13 pm, February 17, 2010  
Blogger it's margaret said...

thank you for this dear sister. I felt like I was dieing on the vine on Wednesday....

3:34 am, February 19, 2010  
Blogger Maggie Ross said...

Rev. Tom wrote: Thank you for your candor re: the 1979 BCP's verbosity and arcane references to Substitutionary Atonement.

1:25 pm, March 02, 2010  

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