Canon Rich SImpson
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“…pray without ceasing…” (I Thess 5:17)
A very short verse, just one word longer than the shortest verse in the Bible (“Jesus wept.”) But talk about three powerful words. Pray. Without. Ceasing.
I’m coming late in the week in the “batting order” for this blog, and clearly so much has unfolded already. The election of a new Presiding Bishop. A public witness with Bishops Against Gun Violence. Purple scarves. Votes on marriage in the context of a landmark Supreme Court decision. My colleagues from this deputation have shared a great deal of the work of this 78th General Convention and hopefully our different voices have helped you who have faithfully followed this blog to have some sense of what the work has been about. And beyond this blog there are countless commentators, bloggers, pontificators and curmudgeons to overwhelm even the most addicted church geek.
I am, as always, personally very grateful for the amazing Vicki Ix and the work she’s done to communicate the good news of our time in Salt Lake City and sift through it to bring us, as a diocese, “all the news that’s fit to move through cyberspace...”
But as this, my second stint as a deputy to General Convention comes near to a close, I want to be sure that you who read this blog from Williamstown to Westboro know that this work is all undergirded by an abiding commitment to common prayer. I write these words without sentimentality or false piety, or because this is what Canons to the Ordinary should say. I write them because my experience here (as in Indianapolis) is that our work is truly guided by the Holy Spirit who is leading us into all truth. The way we get there is by way of prayer, without ceasing.
Common prayer. Those words roll of our tongues – we after all, are a people who are shaped by a Book of Common Prayer. But it’s important to linger on what that means for a moment. Common is not high falutin’ – we come to God not as Pharisees but as publicans. (See Luke 8:9-14) Sometimes we suffer a kind of amnesia when we forget that the first Prayerbook (as well as the King James Bible ) did not receive rave reviews about the glory of “the Queen’s English,” but that more than a few complained when it was all brand new: “can you believe that the language of God (Latin) has been replaced with the same vulgar language they use over at the Globe Theater on stage? Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.
Common prayer means we are committed to prayer in the vernacular. But the vernacular changes. WE change. Common shares a root with the word community , and we seek language that builds up the Body. The whole Body. At General Convention the Holy Eucharist is celebrated each morning – and we find ways of using many different tongues to do that, so that each day feels like a new Pentecost. We use our “traditional” liturgies, but we also recognize with T. S. Eliot that “last year’s words belong to last year’s language [even as] next year’s words await another voice.” So we explore new language as well, with the goal of knitting those gathered from many tribes, languages and peoples into one.
But as important as words are, prayer is bigger than words. The Catechism found in The Book of Common Prayer says that prayer is “…responding to God, by thought and by deeds, with or without words.” (BCP 856) We pray without ceasing when we get up early on a Sunday morning to take to the streets, led by our bishops, to bear witness to the One who calls us to beat swords into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks and guns into bread. We pray without ceasing when we act on Jesus’ commandment to love God and love our neighbor and recognize that “all means all.” We pray without ceasing, even in the challenging work of restructuring a Church that faces new challenges and opportunities as we seek and serve Christ in the world.In our deliberations yesterday before concurring with the House of Bishops that marriage liturgies be available to all of God's people, we paused no less than four times to be still and to ask God to be in our midst.
There is a lot of tedium at General Convention, and when someone stands up to amend the amendment it is sometimes hard to pray for that person. But people back home in the pews who wonder why General Convention matters should know that undergirding all of the debates, discernment, deliberations and decisions – including sometimes the decision to wait—there is prayer. Without ceasing.
Everything else we do grows out of that good soil.