Liturgy, a practice as old as the Church itself, had been a room closed to me in my faith tradition. And when the door opened, I discovered within it the treasure of wisdom. Liturgy was prayer I couldn’t use to make myself look better. It humbled me, reminded me of how many of the faithful had come before me. I found in that room an antidote to my skepticism.
I read Episcopalians and Catholics, writers who spoke of prayer as something they were invited into, not something they were creating for themselves.. I had been living as if prayer was my daily task to produce, words I needed to speak or think to build a bridge of connection with a living God. What I began to see was that prayer was not dependent on me: it was a living organism—a stream—I could enter. It was, thank God, beyond me and outside of me and something I was invited into.
Nowhere was that clearer than when I begin to pray with liturgy, something I’d been warned in the past was “hallow” and “vain repetition.” What I found in those early days of breaking open The Book of Common Prayer and fumbling through the local Episcopal church service, was that these prayers written hundreds of years prior were new and fresh to me. They were a reminder of the depth and breadth of the Church—both past and present. When I prayed a prayer someone else had written down—words that had been uttered around the world, in generations past, words lifted in expectation toward the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, words that would be voiced again long after me—I entered the miracle of the Body of Christ. Something which was (shockingly!) bigger than my generation, my understanding of faith, my culture, and my personal experience of God. Suddenly, prayer was opening up my world.
What was at first a way for me to pray when I no longer trusted my own words became a connection to the people of faith who came before me. Through liturgy the communion of saints offered me prayer when my own words had run out, when I was full of doubt, when I didn’t know how to thank God, or ask for help. Far from being empty, the words of the morning prayer liturgy gave me life when I couldn’t find it anywhere else.
Today I have a new piece up in my "Prayer for the rest of us" series at Off the Page. Find it here!