Reason 2 to Pray “Set Prayers”- Obedience

Two or three times a day John and I say set prayers out loud together from the Episcopalian’s Book of Common Prayer.  Reason one for doing this (see previous post) was because we forget- we forget God’s love and God’s instructions. Prayer from God’s word can remind us in ways that prayers we make up about our current concerns can’t.

One of the reactions we get is: “I pray often, but don’t feel a need to be legalistic about it.”

Reason two: Prayer is servant behavior.

“To me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear.” Isaiah (45:23 NRSV) This command is very clear and doesn’t appear to be optional. Scripture leaves us with little doubt that Jesus is Lord and is to be acknowledged as Lord.

Paul reinforces this message in Philippians (2:10-11) and Romans (14:11). The confession that “Jesus Christ is Lord” is part of our set prayers; this recognition establishes our human status as servant. We are not to be our own Lord. We are subject to the Lord our God.

But what does this mean exactly? Philippians gives us some instructions.  “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus” (2:5) and “(He) emptied himself taking on the form of a slave.” (2:7) and “Let each of you look not to your own interests but to the interests of others.” (2:3)

We find daily set prayer a way to remember and fulfill these instructions.

When we use set prayers from scripture, saying out loud the word of God, we are “taking on the mind of Jesus.”  As we repeat the words we remember. We remember who we are in relation to Jesus and our neighbors; and we remember God’s instructions about those relationships. We are reminded again who God is and how Jesus served with uncompromising humility.

We find it is a light yoke and one that gets easier to bear with practice.

Willie and Alison

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No one makes Kathleen sing along like Willie Nelson. He was having that effect on most people at the Santa Barbara Bowl last week. Why the Santa Barbara Bowl, you ask? Because we could get cheap tickets for $50, and that’s as much as I will pay. There were 5000 people there; I guess the concert took in $500,000. The cheapest tickets for the Los Angeles concert were $80 in a 7000-seat venue—you can do the math. Anyway, it’s nice to have an excuse to go to SB. And sitting at the back in the cheap seats you can see the ocean. In addition, why is it called the Santa Barbara Bowl, Alison Krauss asked. Yes, why?

Maybe they had an excuse to charge a lot because the concert was a double-header. Alison Krauss is not your average opening act, though the people in the expensive seats were the average expensive-seat-audience in failing to arrive for the opening act. This was unwise because Alison and her band can carry a concert on their own, and usually do – they were the main act the previous time we saw them, four years ago, a couple of weeks after I had my prostate out, but that’s another story.

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Alison has the world’s best player of the dobro (a lap steel guitar), Jerry Douglas. She also has Dan Tyminski, whose voice you hear coming out of George Clooney’s mouth in Oh Brother (Dan’s wife says that her husband’s voice and Clooney’s face constitutes her dream man). But most of all she has her own pure, subtle, elegant, mesmerizing voice. I’m still humming “Baby, now that I’ve found you.” But she sang fewer songs than I expected; I think because she is careful about not overdoing it because she has had vocal chords trouble. But anyway she is also a formidable fiddler. She is bluegrass for people who don’t like bluegrass.

07222015_Willie_Nelson_08_r175x200When Willie Nelson came on, a giant Texas flag dropped behind him. One also has to comment on his age (82), but over against Alison its significance lies in one’s sense that he has lived in his songs for so many decades. The voice that’s husky or gravelly (not pure like Alison’s) helps to convey that impression. The songs come from deep inside. Maybe that’s especially true of On the Road Again, but it’s also somehow true about the songs that don’t necessarily relate to his own experience.

Kathleen and others were especially vocal during Mammas, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys with the telling line, “They’ll never stay home and they’re always alone, even with someone they love.” A striking aspect of Willie’s set was the way he letting one song flow into the next seamlessly without missing a beat, song after song. Another striking aspect was that most songs lasted two minutes and twenty-five seconds, presumably because they were written by people such as Hank Williams back in the days of 78 r.p.m. records when every song had to get itself over in that time.

Willie’s band was only himself plus two percussion (!), bass, harmonica, and keyboard, which made for a crisp, clean sound. It gave great prominence to the virtuoso harmonica, and it also exposed Willie’s guitar work in a way that made clear what a virtuoso he himself is.

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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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Daily Prayer: A Frame for Life and Love

April 14, 2015

John spoke at a Prayer Summit yesterday that was organized by the All Nations Church in Lake View Terrace, CA. It remined me that when I travel with John I frequently get questions from the wives of students or faculty about our marriage.

The most crucial component of our marriage, it’s basic framework, is our prayer life. It is within our prayer format that we read the Bible together.

Several times a day we say set prayers out loud together from the Episcopalian Book of Common Prayer. The Daily Devotions for Individuals and Families has bits that repeat the same scripture or words everyday- that’s the “set” part. There are also suggestions like “a canticle may be used” or “prayers may be offered for ourselves and others.”

It is here that we insert a chapter or so from the Bible. We will soon start reading the set lessons from the lectionary every week! We hope you will read along with us.Our ponderings will be on this blog.

We’ve had various reactions to this set prayer and readings habit:

“Isn’t it boring?”  “For me, making up prayers for each situation is more meaningful.  “I often pray, but don’t feel a need to be legalistic about it.”  “What a cool thing for a couple to do, I wish we had the time.”

Yes, sometimes it is boring, and we don’t have time. Or the words don’t fit the situation. It’s especially hard during a spat and it therefore doesn’t seem cool to have to come together to pray.  But we do it anyway and prayer has thus become a precious foundation for our marriage.

Why?

Even though I find it both emotionally grounding and a great bonding routine, even though it can set the tone for the day and help me sleep at night, the most important reasons we have for praying are much more profound.

Watch here for upcoming blog posts on three profound reasons we need to regularly pray the “set prayers.”

John’s two papers from the Prayer Summit: “The Psalms as an Invitation into a Spiral Relationship with God” and “Praying For and Against Others” are posted under the Other Papers tab.

DSCF4397At our wedding on the beach. 12/10/10

 

 

Who Would Miss the Body of Christ?

April 10, 2015

Asbury-Theological-Seminary-50933041The last three days we were in Kentucky at Asbury Seminary. John gave some papers, we had some great fellowship with students and faculty, and we heard some great questions.

The one that haunts me the most is: “If your church disappeared tomorrow, would anyone from outside the church miss it?”

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For our church, St. Barnabas, the answer might be those who enjoy the meals we provide at Union Station Homeless Services the third friday of each month. Who else? Who for your church? Should churches be concerned about this? We welcome your comments.

The papers John gave are posted under “Other Papers.”