The above is one of my favourite Merton pictures. It is, I think, from the time of his ordination to the priesthood. I wonder how he felt about having his picture taken during prayer? I know how I would feel.
I have been using a “meditation bench” for a time of mental prayer in the morning. I am old and I find sitting, kneeling, or standing somewhat difficult. But I can kneel using the bench. It keeps my back straight so I get little to no ache. Alas, I do not have enough padding so I do get a little sore sitting on the bare bench.
I think about all the things I do during the day. All the things I think are vital. Yet I often cannot find 10 minutes to just rest in the presence of Jesus. I want to organise my day better so that I can start with time with Jesus – resting, listening, lamenting.
This morning I had a decision: I am going to move to using Common Worship: Daily Prayer exclusively. Not going to change the world, not going to move anyone else! I have used Common Worship with the Australian Lectionary. I have purchased a copy of the lectionary from the Church of England and I will use that lectionary for my divine office.
Yes, not earth-shattering! And most likely very myopic. Yet the rhyme that Common Worship establishes with a four-fold office really suits me. And I am really not sure how I would survive without it – I often say Prayer During the Day in the car at work.
Psalm 55 was part of Morning and Evening Prayer today. This morning I was struck by these verses:
And I said: ‘O that I had wings like a dove, ♦ for then would I fly away and be at rest. ‘Then would I flee far away ♦ and make my lodging in the wilderness. ‘I would make haste to escape ♦ from the stormy wind and tempest.’
I often want to escape. I am never sure if I have faith or just a very strong desire to escape. Maybe a better way to put it is that I am not sure whether I have a vocation or a strong desire to escape?!
So I identify with the above verses. Indeed I would like to be a dove that flys into the wilderness and is never heard from again. And that urge is so strong sometimes. But is it the wilderness that I want to escape to? Or is it into Jesus that I want to escape?
I just wanted to share Psalm 62 again. It was set for Morning Prayer and it always speaks to me. So here is the whole Psalm with Refrain as found in Common Worship:
Refrain: Wait on God alone in stillness, O my soul.
1 On God alone my soul in stillness waits; ♦ from him comes my salvation. 2 He alone is my rock and my salvation, ♦ my stronghold, so that I shall never be shaken. 3 How long will all of you assail me to destroy me, ♦ as you would a tottering wall or a leaning fence? 4 They plot only to thrust me down from my place of honour; lies are their chief delight; ♦ they bless with their mouth, but in their heart they curse. 5 Wait on God alone in stillness, O my soul; ♦ for in him is my hope. 6 He alone is my rock and my salvation, ♦ my stronghold, so that I shall not be shaken. [R] 7 In God is my strength and my glory; ♦ God is my strong rock; in him is my refuge. 8 Put your trust in him always, my people; ♦ pour out your hearts before him, for God is our refuge. 9 The peoples are but a breath, the whole human race a deceit; ♦ on the scales they are altogether lighter than air. 10 Put no trust in oppression; in robbery take no empty pride; ♦ though wealth increase, set not your heart upon it. 11 God spoke once, and twice have I heard the same, ♦ that power belongs to God. 12 Steadfast love belongs to you, O Lord, ♦ for you repay everyone according to their deeds.
Refrain: Wait on God alone in stillness, O my soul.
O God, teach us to seek security, not in money or theft, not in human ambition or malice, not in our own ability or power, but in you, the only God, our rock and our salvation.
… I have not mentioned it: I have started using Common Prayer: Daily Prayer as my office book. And I must admit I absolutely love it. It is physically a very nice book. And the offices are within the Anglican tradition and solidly traditional in their shape. It provides Morning Prayer, Prayer During the Day, Evening Prayer, and Prayer at the end of the day. I like the four-fold office as it is doable for me in my current context. And, to be honest, I do not want more at the moment!
I will admit that sometimes I feel some anxiety about not using the Australian prayer book that my parish uses. But that is for another day to consider!
I have been thinking of switching to Common Worship for Morning and Evening Prayer. Also of introducing Prayer During the Day and Prayer at Night (Compline) to my daily cycle of prayer. I have only had a very brief look but I think this book will offer me a fuller office within the modern Anglican tradition. And I can use a weekly, fortnightly, or monthly psalter.
I have been thinking (or should I say “reading about”) posture in prayer. In the mystical tradition is there is an emphases on standing for prayer. I read an article about Julian of Norwich that made the point of “receiving in prayer” with hands open.
I admit that I am often more interested in telling God what to do than receiving anything from Him in my own prayer life. Receive, yes, but after I have told God what I want and need. I really like the above gesture during prayer – open to receiving from God. Being open and empty before the Throne of Grace. Simply allowing myself to be in the presence of Jesus.
I have also watched a couple of YouTube videos on Mount Athos – the self-governing monastic island. I was struck by how the monks simply pray while they work. They recite the Jesus Prayer or a single word. Not long complicated requests of God but simply begging for His mercy.
So I would like to emulate openness and simplicity in my prayer life.
Prayer was the very heart of the desert life, and consisted of psalmody (vocal prayer – recitation of the Psalms and other parts of the Scriptures which everyone had to know by heart) and contemplation. What we would call today contemplative prayer is referred to as quies or “rest.” This illuminating term has persisted in Greek monastic tradition as hesychia, “sweet repose.” Quies is a silent absorption aided by the soft repetition of a lone phrase of the Scriptures – the most popular being the prayer of the Publican: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner!” In a shortened form this prayer became “Lord have mercy” (Kyrie eleison) – repeated interiorly hundreds of times a day until it became as spontaneous and instinctive as breathing.
Thomas Merton, The Wisdom of the Desert, 20
The repeating of a single phrase while breathing is a great way to pray. I find, especially at night, it is super relaxing but it also focuses me on Jesus. But what I really like about the above quote is that “sweet repose” and liturgical prayer live alongside each other. As it should be!