Reason 1 to Pray “Set Prayers”: We don’t get it

Is saying the set prayers from the Episcopalian Book of Common Prayer boring? This is like asking if marriage is boring…maybe sometimes, but then it’s boring in a good way, and sometimes we find it anything but boring! The basic framework for our marriage is our prayer life, and even though prayer is emotionally grounding, that is not the only reason to do it.

Here is the first of three reasons prayer is much more profound than a balm to help you sleep at night:

We just don’t get it

From the very beginning we haven’t gotten it. When God walked with the first humans in the early evening breeze, it was the sweetest time of day in the most luscious garden imaginable, but that wasn’t enough for us.

In spite of the perfect setting and knowing God was there with them, people forgot what God imparted to them on those walks. They forgot both God’s love and God’s instructions. The result of this forgetting is powerlessness and severe jeopardy. I know this from my own experience and because the same story, different characters, is repeated over and over in Scripture. And just understanding the story doesn’t help me remember it.

Scripture uses repetition to help us remember.  God begs us over and over in various ways to listen. God formed an entire people to serve as an example. Remembering the overarching story of their life with God was perhaps the most important part of being an example. They remembered this out loud together by repeating the story at festivals. Set prayers help me remember this same story.

God sent us prophets who used familiar bits of scripture, poems and prayers as lectures and warnings not to forget the big picture.  The prophets also begged us to cry out to God for help. An entire book of Scripture, the Psalms, instructs us in remembering and crying out.  I doubt the psalms were given to us only to be read once and then put away as irrelevant.

But we rarely call out to God in this way unless we are really suffering like Job or Hannah.  The set prayers use the Psalms. The first words I pray each day are from Psalm 51. “Open my lips, Oh Lord….” Reminding me I need God even to speak and that there is a larger story that my life fits into. The story of what God did for us and will do for us, most profoundly in Christ.

When God came to walk with us again, to tell us directly the good news of God’s love for us, did Jesus have instant mind-meld with the Father? No, Scripture tells us Jesus regularly turned to prayer.

Jesus thought that prayer was important enough that he gave us specific instructions about it and a specific set prayer.  Jesus thought that prayer was powerful enough that it was the very last thing he did on the cross. And Jesus thought crying out through scripture was worthy enough that his last prayer was also recognizable set prayer, a psalm.

I hope you will consider joining us in daily set prayer.

Blessings, Kathleen

 

Baldy Mountain Jazz

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A half-wit once tried to change the name of the Baldy Mountain Jazz Band, which plays at The Press Restaurant in Claremont. The building used to house the local newspaper’s printing presses, but it’s now the home of an adventurous and tasty chef (last night quail was on the menu) who is almost worth driving the nineteen miles for. It’s definitely worth it when Baldy are there playing New Orleans-type jazz (which is hard to find in Los Angeles).

Mount Baldy rises 10,000 feet above where we live. It’s where we can most often see snow, and where Leonard Cohen spent five years in a Zen monastery before coming back down and touring again after his manager made off with his money (so we owe her a debt of thanks; maybe even Leonard does). I like to picture the band trekking down the mountain to play and then trekking back to resume their jobs as tree-fellers or whatever. To encourage that impression, one or two wear plaid shirts, and one wears a cap and suspenders (braces in Brit-speak).

Actually they are bank managers and builders and the like. The leader and trombonist used to be a retired science professor, but alas he passed away last year. They include a father and son duo (in their seventies and forties) on guitars, a trumpeter who plays drums to do them a favor, and a pianist who is the band’s musical arranger and indispensable heart.

The odd thing is that they almost seem to make a point of never having what I was taught was a “proper” New Orleans front line—trombone, trumpet, clarinet. In Britain in my teens, the great controversy concerned whether the addition of saxes was an act of betrayal. Nowadays saxes have an unquestioned place (but this is California). The new leader also plays flute, and Last night claimed that one of the numbers had never been played on flute before.

John

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