Learning to "Pray with the Church"

At the beginning of our spiritual formation classes at the university we always offer prayer in some form with which the students are not very familiar. A couple weeks ago I was preparing a brief service of Taizé-style prayer using Common Prayer (by ShaneClaiborne, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, and Enuma Okoro) as the primary resource as I had earlier decided to do. And then I read the reflection for the week:

“On January 22, 1973, the US Supreme Court decided in Roe v. Wade that a mother has the legal right to end her pregnancy up until the point at which the fetus can live outside of her womb. We lament the death of each child lost to abortion. We pray for each parent who has chosen to terminate a pregnancy. And we commit to become a people who welcome life in a culture of death…

“Cyprian of Carthage, a third-century North African bishop, wrote, “The world is going mad in mutual extermination, and murder, considered as a crime when committed individually, becomes a virtue when it is committed by large numbers. It is the multiplication of the frenzy that assures impunity to the assassins.”

Now I don’t think I am prone to unnecessarily shy away from this issue. I have often told people that I think abortion should be illegal except in cases or rape and incest. And I’m still theologically working through even this exception. I don’t have a problem with the reflection offered for this day, except maybe pairing Cyprian’s comments on war with a reflection on abortion without explaining the contrasts.

But our normal mode of operation as an ecumenical campus ministry is to avoid emphasizing where various strands of Christianity would differ on an issue. We fully recognize that there are theological reasons for a variety of positions on this and other issues. Individual members of our staff might speak out on one or another of these positions. But rarely would we address these topics in worship because we hope for the worship that we organize to be a place where all Christians can gather together.

But that is one of the great formative aspects of “praying with the church.” That phrase refers to the practice of praying through a set of prayers and times that are handed down from the tradition. These prayers in many cases have been used for generations or even centuries within the life of the Church. In one sense, the practice of preaching the lectionary, the three year cycle of prescribed readings for worship, is another instance of this. Praying with the church describes a prayer life that is submitted to the Church’s tradition of prayer rather than following only the whim or desire of the individual who prays.

And this tradition will often bring us to those Bible verses or prayers that we would otherwise not read or pray. It brings us to those verses about money and judgment and purity that we would prefer to forget about. And causes us to say prayers of commitment and allegiance to those callings from God as well.

Many of us would much rather read just those parts of the Bible that suit us. We would rather pray in the way that is most encouraging. We want to practice those spiritual disciplines that are most comfortable. But to pray with the church says that maybe there is a more holistic way of being a disciple of Jesus. And if only I will pray along with the great tradition of prayer that is forged over time by a great many disciples under the guidance of the Spirit, then maybe I will become a fully formed disciple yet.

While I really like the prayer book that we were using (Common Prayer), I would really encourage you to find out what prayer guidance is offered from your tradition. Do you have a prayer list that is published by your denomination regularly? Do you have a daily liturgy and lectionary such as the Book of Common Prayer? Are you willing to submit yourself to the great saints of your own church to let them lead you in prayer? Do you trust these saints that much?

If you don’t have something like this in your tradition, then I would recommend the Book of Common Prayer’s Daily Office Lectionary that is available electronically here.

You can also get a hardback copy of the Book of Common Prayer very inexpensively.

I also highly recommend the book mentioned above, Common Prayer (by ShaneClaiborne, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, and Enuma Okoro).

Related Post: Words of Grace for Inadequate Christians

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