Last week I attended a Collegeville writing workshop on the campus of St. John’s College in Minnesota. I found myself praying with the monks most mornings—not because I’m particularly holy, but because I kept waking up before six and our sessions didn’t start until nine.
The benedictine sisters in Atchison, KS, are quick to welcome guests into their prayer and gracious in walking us through the somewhat intimidating (for protestants) liturgy. The sisters at St. Benedict’s, the sister college to St. John’s, proved equally hospitable—getting out the books we would need, whispering in our ears what pages we should turn to. The sisters make an unfamiliar situation comfortable and warm.
The brothers, however, have more of a “you figure out where to sit (good luck realizing you need to pull the seat down before you sit) and we put the random page numbers on the board so if you can’t figure out the book situation then I guess you can just listen” approach to hospitality. (To be fair, one very kind brother brought me the special book we used for the Feast of St. Benedict on the last morning.)
Still, I did manage to find a seat in the choir stall for morning prayer. And I noticed the need to pull down my seat before I sat. I looked at the board and looked at the people around me and managed to get the books ready. While I felt a little awkward and quite unsure of myself, it was truly a sacred space and I breathed deeply as I waited for the prayers to start.
In typical Benedictine style, we read several psalms responsively. One side of the congregation read one stanza, waiting to begin until I thought they might all have fallen asleep, then speaking each word slowly, deliberately, with a pause between lines to show there was no rush. Then my side of the congregation responded with the next stanza. I fought against my natural rush through the text, trying to wait for a monk’s voice to begin the line, sometimes speaking prematurely into the silence and feeling embarrassed before God.
Maybe with a month of morning prayers, or a year of practice, or a life more focused and steady and constrained, I would learn to pace myself. But one week was not enough. Even on the last day of prayers, I still wanted to rush ahead; I still had to focus on my breathing, to tell my lips to remain still until I heard a monk begin the next line.
A week of morning prayer was not enough to change my hurried pace. But it was enough to make me realize that I want to pray like this more often. I don’t necessarily want to pray with responsive psalm-reading or even the leisurely tempo, but I would love to begin more of my days in worship and prayer with other people.
I’ve long struggled to maintain a morning devotional/reading/prayer practice. I’ve tried praying before I even get out of bed; I’ve tried making a little home worship space; I’ve tried lots of different prayer books and devotionals and practices. Nothing sticks. I know that part of this inconsistency is just because of my personality type. I realized last week that it’s also, partly, because I REALLY like praying with other people.
So my friend Susan and I have talked about what it might look like to bring a community together on line for morning prayer. Honestly, we have no idea. But we’re excited to try it. If it’s something you would also like to try, check out the details below and get in touch.
What: Morning Prayer using the liturgies from Common Prayer. (The necessary material is available online.)
When: Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 8:30 Central (Begins July 25, 2016)
Who: Anyone can participate. I will lead Monday prayer; Susan will lead on Fridays; we still need someone to lead on Wednesdays. Also if you’d like to play guitar sometimes, that would be great!
Where: In cyberspace! We’ll use Google Hangouts for now.
How: Let me know if you want to participate. I will need your email address and you will need an active Google account.