From my heart to yours
In the deserts of the heart
Let the healing fountains start,
In the prison of his days
Teach the free man how to praise.
W H Auden In Memory of W B Yeats
Today, I arrived at Sarum College, Salisbury. My room has a view of the majestic Salisbury Cathedral and its amazing spire. I decided I would attend Evensong and Morning Prayer in the Cathedral each day, as part of my study leave experience. Entering the Cathedral, I was struck by the immenseness and magnificence of what those stonemasons 750 years ago created for worship and the glory of God. It is truly a wonder–filled sacred space. My contribution for this month’s newsletter is taken from an introduction offered for those who attend Morning and Evening Prayer in the Cathedral. I will adapt and reproduce part here for you, may it be a source of encouragement in your practice of worship here at St Aidans and/or at other places on your journey:
Morning and Evening prayer provide the spiritual framework for the activities that go on in the Cathedral day by day. These services have been offered in Salisbury Cathedral in one form or another for seven hundred and fifty years almost without a break and despite the religious upheavals of the sixteenth century Reformation and the seventeenth century civil war.
But the saying of prayers morning and evening to God has a much longer history than the story of Salisbury Cathedral. Christian daily prayer arose almost certainly from the three–times a day prayer which faithful Jews offered at morning, midday and in the evening. Jesus would certainly have been familiar with such a routine of prayer both at home and with his friends or in the synagogue. The early Christians simply continued with that prayer that had been handed on to them. And that form of prayer with its Jewish origins could well have influenced the prayer of Mohammed and the five times a day prayer that devout Muslims say today.
The pattern of Christian daily prayer was most decisively influenced by St Benedict who in the sixth century of our common era wrote a Rule which established how monks and nuns should live together communally. At the heart of the Rule, as at the heart of the Monk’s or Nun’s, life is the daily offering of prayer and praise. The Benedictine Order of monks along with other Monastic orders, gathers for worship seven times a day. This is at the heart of their communal life and practice.
However, this may suit the life of a monastic community, whose whole raison d’etre is focused in common worship; it is impossible for people in a secular society with so many demands upon their time.
Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, who was murdered on the orders of the Catholic Queen Mary in the sixteenth century, took the monastic prayer office, which over time had become the preserve of religious communities, or the private prayer of individual priests and made it available for lay as well as ordained Christians. First and foremost he translated the prayers into English from the Latin so that the prayers, psalms and readings could be ‘understood by the people.’ Furthermore, he cleverly combined four of the seven offices (prayer times) of the monastic liturgical hours to provide two simple offices in which priest and people could join in worship. This act of Cranmer’s not only strongly influenced the Anglican Communion but also other Christian traditions including our own.
The final paragraph (of the introduction during morning and evening prayers at the Cathedral) offers a helpful reminder to us in the midst of our busy world:
Let the beauty of the music, or the power of the readings, or the particular petitions for the world’s need become part of your interior meditation, and an opportunity to use the space provided for your own prayer, petitions and thanksgiving. It is a moment not for disengagement but for recognition that the encounter with the divine requires us to find a place of quiet, almost solitude, where our own clamour is silenced and the presence of God can be savoured, if only for a moment.
This paragraph can be a guide wherever we are, either at Evensong in a majestic Cathedral or part of our worshiping community here at St Aidans. Indeed, it also can be applied to those times, when we need to walk along the beach or a bush track, rather than attend worship in a Church building. We each need times of solitude, silence and refreshment as we are held within the embrace of mystery.
In closing I offer you a couple of poems that I find bring me back to silence and offer space for renewal:
The Peace of Wild Things
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life
and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water,
and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief.
I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free
Ready for Silence
Then hear now the silence
He comes in the silence
in silence he enters
the womb of the bearer
in silence he goes to
the realm of the shadows
redeeming and shriving
in silence he moves from
the grave cloths, the dark tomb
in silence he rises
ascends to the glory
leaving his promise
leaving his comfort
leaving his silence
So come now, Lord Jesus
Come in your silence
breaking our noising
laughter of panic
breaking this earth’s time
breaking us breaking us
quickly Lord Jesus
make no long tarrying
When will you come
and how will you come
and will we be ready