Sunday, June 9, 2013

Majesty and Awe

In our American culture we have lost the sense of majesty and awe.  Under the influence of popular cries to make the Church more relevant and make it “seeker sensitive¸ there is a call to streamline and simplify our worship sometimes trimming the very things that convey that majesty and awe.  At our home we have various practices in praying the Daily Office[1] and from time to time we have gone through periods of singing the Offices from the Alton Abbey prayer books.  A couple of years ago a visiting monk who had joined us in singing Morning Prayer remarked, “If you say the office instead of singing it, you can get through it faster.” 

I didn’t think that was quite the point of praying the Daily Offices, whether sung or said.  For me the chief end of prayer is just being with God.  Remember the four steps of Lectio Divina:

1.                  Read the Scripture passage over several times to anchor it in your mind.
2.                  Reflect on its meaning, but don’t get trapped in academic Bible Study.
3.                  Respond in prayer.  Prayer puts us in the place of responsive obedience to the  will of God.  Bear in mind that Responding to God in Prayer often calls for us to respond actively by either doing something, or in some cases ceasing do to something.
4.                  Rest.  Resting in the presence of God is the true end of Lectio. 

Resting in the presence of God is the true end of both Lectio Divina and prayer.  Prayer has its foundation in the prayer life of the ancient Church and in the worship life of the people of Israel.  The Psalter was the prayer book of both the ancient Church and of our Jewish forbearers.  That is why the Daily Offices focus on the Psalter and on balanced readings from both Old and New Testaments.  In praying Morning Prayer, whether from the Book of Common Prayer or the Alton Abbey prayer books, one prays with the ancient and continuing Church across the centuries.  The other major strand of Prayer is called Habitual Recollection [recollecting oneself in the presence of God].  Habitual Recollection includes our informal intercessions for family, friends and events; along with those short arrow prayers we shoot heavenward throughout the day, and the Practice of the Awareness of the Presence of God.  Hebrew expresses things in a concrete, rather than in an abstract way.  In Psalm 105:4b the translators most often render it this way: “seek his presence continually.”  The Hebrew, in a literal minded and concrete fashion, says, “seek his face continually.”[2]  When you, in prayer or Lectio Divina, rest in the presence of God you are resting not in a vague and ephemeral[3] presence but before the face of God Himself.

Here we arrive at the core of the matter for today.  If we miss the majesty and awesomeness of God we miss a major element in our relationship with Him.  We have to understand the Transcendence of God before we understand the true meaning of His Immanence.   Only when we understand the Majesty and utter Holiness of God can we understand the meaning of the Incarnation when “he made himself nothing.”[4]  When we say that He come down to our level it helps to remember from what heights he descends.  When we pray it is not just to a warm and loving Father that we open our hearts, but to the awesome God, who says to his children, “You shall be holy to me, for I the LORD am holy and have separated you from the peoples, that you should be mine.”[5]

[1] The Daily Offices in the Book of Common Prayer are Morning Prayer, Noonday, Evening Prayer and Compline.  Try it, you’ll like it.
[2] ESV
[3] Isn’t that a nice word?  It means brief or passing.
[4] Philippians 2:5-11
[5] Leviticus 20:26 and 1 Peter 1:15-16