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By Laura MacNewman
Beginning next week and continuing through August, in-person morning prayer is returning to Christ Church Cranbrook weekdays from 8 AM to 8:30 AM in St. Paul’s Chapel. Beginners welcome! [View in-person morning prayer event here!] (Please note, this does not replace morning prayer over Zoom, which will continue as normally scheduled at 8:30 AM [View online morning prayer event here!]).
If you have never experienced Anglican Morning Prayer, I want to invite you to give it a try sometime this summer. I will be among those leading morning prayer in-person in St. Paul’s Chapel, and I’d like to share with you why I come to this particular role with sincere devotion and a tender serenity. A good place to begin is with these words that I have long loved:
“May Thy Word, Lord, be a light to my eyes, a lamp to my feet, honey in my mouth, a song to my ears, a joy to my heart…” (from the Latin Prayer of Queen Elizabeth I).
For many years before I began to learn what it means to ‘be Christian,’ I loved Queen Elizabeth I’s prayers and this particular prayer. Yet, alas, I always read it intellectually and without faith, so much desiring the things that Elizabeth so beautifully requests, which seemed so far from the reality of my life and inner experience. Then, one day in 2017, something caused me to return to this prayer, and coming to this phrase, it reached deep into my heart, and I read the first four words truly and as though for the first time: “May Thy Word, Lord…”. I cannot, and should not try, to describe the feeling of that vital moment, but it was an invitation, one of several presented to me at that time, to accept the gift of faith, which had been so painfully lacking. And I did, and I do, accept, gratefully. As I began to read the Bible, I learned and recognized that Elizabeth’s prayers, which I had once thought were entirely her own graceful words, were guided by Scripture—especially the Psalms and the Epistles.
When I began to explore prayer liturgies for morning and evening through apps and books, it took me to the Church of England, Episcopal, and Roman Catholic liturgies. I came to understand its historical roots in the ancient practice of the Divine Office, also known as the Liturgy of the Hours, where prayers are said in the community at fixed times (Matins, Lauds, Prime, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers, and Compline). Following the Reformation, the Anglican Communion combined these into Morning and Evening Prayer, which is what you will find in the Book of Common Prayer. It offers two Rites, one with traditional language (Rite I), “O Lord, open thou our lips,” and one with modernized language (Rite II), “Lord, open our lips,” depending on one’s preference. It follows a two-year cycle, where the appointed Psalm and the First and Second Lessons (readings from the Old and New Testaments) are appointed in the Lectionary at the back of the book.
I have tried Zoom prayer meetings with others interested in monastic traditions, but more so, I tried to keep a rhythm of morning prayer alone in private. Sometimes I have enjoyed a regular rhythm of prayer and other times, I have neglected it. There is a substantial difference in the poise of days that begin with morning prayer compared to those that do not, for it embraces all the principal kinds of prayer: adoration, praise, thanksgiving, penitence, oblation, intercession, and petition (Book of Common Prayer, p. 856). This ancient practice of devotion breathes God’s Word into our souls to instruct us, guide us, comfort us, delight us, and help us to begin our day by dedicating ourselves to loving our God and our neighbors. It helps us to go into the day with intentionality and a greater sense of inner peace and our lives as instruments of peace, having listened to the Word of God and responded prayerfully. For me, it brings me closer to walking with my God and the meaning of the mystical verse, “My beloved is mine and I am His” (Song of Solomon, 2:16 KJV).
I invite you to join us for in-person morning prayer in St. Paul’s Chapel from 8 – 8:30 AM, Monday to Friday. We will sometimes use a printed bulletin and sometimes the prayer book itself. If you haven’t participated in morning prayer before, don’t worry. We will guide you through it. Beginners are welcome! If you have any questions about it or wish to learn more about the Morning Prayer Rites in the Book of Common Prayer, please feel free to email me at email@example.com!