An intimacy with Scripture
Several weeks ago, I returned to St. Paul’s School in Concord, N.H., for the 50th reunion of my graduating class. It was a great joy to reconnect with those who had been part of a very important chapter in my life.
During the weekend, at odd moments I found myself drawn again and again to the small chapel where in my day the Eucharist was celebrated daily. As I sat in the stall that I had usually occupied on those early mornings I became profoundly aware of the fact that my conscious journey into Christ, and the beginnings of my discernment of a call to ordained ministry, had begun there.
In those days, if one had not been confirmed, one did not receive Communion. I had not been confirmed and had no particular notion of what the Eucharist was all about.
One morning shortly after my arrival at the school, I was drawn as much as anything by curiosity – or so I thought then – to attend a weekday Eucharist. In that intimate space on a morning long ago, I was struck by the complexity of the rite and the purposefulness of the priest and the acolyte. I was baffled and impressed. I had a sense something very important was going on, though I wasn’t sure what it was. The following year I was confirmed, and thus begin a relationship with the Book of Common Prayer that opened the way to a whole new world.
During a recent conversation, a group of theologians and I found ourselves focusing upon the practices that support and deepen our life in Christ. One practice that has shaped Anglican faithfulness over the centuries has been the Daily Office. While Morning and Evening Prayer as set out in the prayer book are intended primarily for corporate celebration, many clerics and lay persons have made them, either in their full or a modified form, part of their daily pattern of making themselves available to God’s mystery at work in their lives.
The Daily Office is a part of my life, and it has sustained, and at times challenged, me over the years. On numerous occasions, there has been a clear connection between the Scripture appointed for the day and the events surrounding me: I have been drawn to examine the circumstance of my life through the lens of Scripture. At such moments, I have known, with the writer of the letter to the Hebrews, that the word of God is “alive and active and sharper than a two-edged sword.”
To be sure, there have been days when I have wondered what possible meaning a particular reading from Scripture might have for me or anyone else. Yet, at the same time, I have to admit that there have been moments when a seemingly irrelevant passage has broken me open and become the word of life I most needed there and then. Times of joy and thanksgiving as well as times of struggle and desolation have been tempered and refined in the fierce fire of God’s word as revealed in an ordered daily reading of Scripture.
One of the gifts of Anglicanism is that our tradition is marked by particular patterns of prayer and sacramental encounter, which assist men and women to “grow up in all ways into Christ.” The Book of Common Prayer with its various rites and ceremonies traces the passage of each one of us from birth through life and into death. The rhythms of the prayer book place us and our lives within the mystery of time, which is also the mystery of Christ, who is Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. The days of the week, the seasons and the year are all punctuated by patterns of prayer and sacramental celebration that draw us into union with Christ.
While there may be sudden moments of intense awareness of God’s love and mercy – moments of piercing conviction – we are largely shaped and molded by the recurring patterns and rhythms of prayer and sacrament that work within us, often in hidden ways, the developmental dynamics of God’s grace. Our prayer calls us both to a continual meditation upon God’s mighty acts and to a constant yielding of ourselves to God’s larger purposes.
Much has been said in recent days about the “authority of Scripture,” frequently in relationship to current debates in the life of the church about sexuality. Passages of Scripture are invoked as weapons in order to defend various points of view.
I believe there is a better way. I believe that together we can find that way and move through the challenges of the present time if we invite the risen Christ, through the agency of the spirit of truth, to make himself known in the power of his reconciling love through the scriptural word and the enacted word of his sacraments. If we allow ourselves to be pierced by the word in its various forms, we will undergo an expansion of heart and find ourselves drawn into an ever-deepening companionship with Christ, and thus with one another.