Monday, December 5, 2011

God, of your goodness

There are several moments during the liturgy when a moment of silence is called for. Sometimes the rubrics are explicit that silence is kept. Other times, they are more permissive, indicating that silence may be kept. Regardless, there are moments, just a few, when stillness is meant to envelop the assembly.

Most people find the stillness difficult. We are a people always on the move, always going from one thing to the next. There are many parishes that rigorously schedule the allotted length for each moment in the liturgy, lest any one part go longer and the liturgy end at the wrong time. In this super-efficient approach to worship, the idea of spending a moment of a worship service in silence can seem almost indulgent.

One of the ways I ensure that I keep significant silence when I'm serving is to recite small prayers to myself. Not all the time. Sometimes the silence is meant also to involve a stillness of mind. But at other times I've found this a meaningful practice.

For example, after the priest breaks the bread, the rubrics indicate very clearly, "A period of silence is kept." Sadly, I often find this period is rushed. I don't think it is intentional. I think waiting for silence feels like an eternity when you're in charge of ending it. I think in more than a few places there is not an agreement worked out between the priest and the organist about who ends the silence and when. I just know that in my own practice I work very hard to keep that silence real, perhaps even to allow it to become pregnant with the meaning of Eucharist in that moment.

And so, to keep that silence, I say a short prayer to myself,
God, of your goodness give me yourself, for you are enough to me. And I can ask for nothing less that is to your glory. And if I ask for anything less, I shall still be in want, for only in you have I all.
And then I repeat a few times,
All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well. // All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well. // All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.
These prayers come from a form of praying the Anglican rosary that I picked up years ago. They are drawn from the writings of Julian of Norwich, a late fourteenth century English mystic. At a period of severe illness when she was 30, she experienced a series of powerful visions of Christ. She later wrote them down and they became the source of her book, Sixteen Revelations of Divine Love

The second prayer, the one that begins "All shall be well," is probably one of her most well-known. I've understood the meaning and power of that prayer since I first heard it. But the second prayer, the one that begins, "God of your goodness," is one I don't think I had a clue about until relatively recently. Ever since my spiritual director's impacting statement, I've noticed that the "God of your goodness" prayer has become increasingly meaningful. I've been reflecting for a couple of weeks now on why that may be.

I think part of it is that desire is such a complicating thing. While we all know what it feels like to want, the act of clarifying what it is we are actually wanting is much harder. This is why psychologists and therapists are so succesul, one part of their work is to help people realize what they are actually wanting.

This is why it was so powerful to hear my director articulate that she sensed within me a deep desire for union with God. I had never thought about it like that—intellectually I had, but not in a way that actually connected the theology to the aching of my heart. It remains powerful to remember that so much of my own angst and ache and want is, in the end, part of my heart's restless desire for God.

I've discovered over this past year and a half or so that parish ministry involves an awful lot of wants, several perceived desires from various quarters interacting with one another. This is why, I think, parishes argue over the color of the carpet. Every desire in the church is spiritually caught up in an individual's desire for God. Thus, even the color of the carpet has deep meaning.

And it's helpful, it's so very helpful, to be reminded that what we all are actually wanting is something else: God. It's not that our desire for God needs to be separated from the various mundane things that make up our journey into God—even the aesthetic questions of upholstery and carpeting. It's just that we need to remember why we care so much about them. We must keep the end in mind.

Each Sunday morning, after I break the bread, I rest my hands on the altar, breathe deeply, and remind myself that this is what it's all truly about—our desire for a God who comes near in the sacraments. All the other stuff that swirls through our hearts and minds, it can cloud the reality of our actual desire: God.

And somehow the act of saying this each Sunday, in my own small prayer, is remarkably calming. In the midst of all the activity and movement surrounding Holy Eucharist, saying once again, "You are enough for me," gently challenges me. It asks me to consider whether or not that is actually true. And it reminds me that when I forget this truth, when I focus the desires of my heart on anything less, that I'm still going to be left wanting.

"For only in you have I all."

1 comment:

  1. First of all, I was extremely excited to see you have a blog again. I missed reading your thoughts and reflections. Second, I'm honored you listed my rather rambling blog in your blogroll. I look forward to reading your posts in the future, and I'm very, very glad for you and your work in the Anglican Church. May God bless you.