Thursday, June 30, 2016

The Collect for Purity

Almighty God, to you all hearts are open, all desires known and from you no secrets are hid: Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love you, and worthily magnify your holy Name: through Christ our Lord. Amen.

This traditional prayer is said near the beginning of the Episcopal and Anglican rites of Eucharist. It comes so early in the service that it's easy to overlook. I confess that years went by before I attended to it at all, much less actually prayed it. We might find ourselves distracted during the reading - settling children, finding the page, yet it is worthwhile to ponder the significance of these very ancient words.

The Collect for Purity is 1200 years old! Amazingly, Christians have been praying these words since AD 800’s - but not all Christians. For many years this prayer was said privately by the priest as he (always he) prepared for the service of the Eucharist. Regular worshippers never even heard it.

                                                     Image result for thomas cranmer images

In the 16th Century, Thomas Cranmer, the first Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury and main author of the Book of Common Prayer (pictured above), moved this prayer from the sacristy to the sanctuary, so to speak, when he included it in the Eucharistic Rite itself. In the Anglican and Episcopal tradition, there are no exclusive prayers for the clergy. Our Book of Common Prayer is just that – used in common by laity and clergy alike.

A collect is a formal prayer with a formal structure. There is an address to God - Almighty God. This is like the salutation at the beginning of a letter.

Then follows the naming of an attribute of God – to you all hearts are open, all desires known and from you no secrets are hid. Does this claim make you nervous? It shouldn’t. These words affirm that God knows us thoroughly and lovingly. Who could know us better than our creator? Who could love us more? 

Next comes the petition - Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit. Notice that it is “the thoughts of our hearts” that need cleansing. In earlier times, the heart was considered the center of being, the self. A mental calculation such as "Did I thaw the roast?" would not interfere with worship so much as something on the heart, like anger, fear, or longing for anything not of God.

Next follows the aspiration or reason for the prayer - that we may perfectly love you, and worthily magnify your holy Name. We want God to prepare us so that our worship will be true. This is basically a prayer to be able to pray. How often do we feel unable to pray? Our minds are not in the right frame; we worry that we cannot pray properly. Here we are asking God to correct these things so we may give ourselves entirely to worship.

Lastly is the doxology - through Christ our Lord. Followed by the all-important Amen, without which no written prayer is complete.

In the 14th Century, an anonymous author wrote The Cloud of Unknowing which has become a classic of Christian contemplative prayer. The writer placed the Collect for Purity at the very beginning of his prologue. It follows here in the Middle English.

God, unto whom alle hertes ben open, and unto whom alle wille spekith, and unto whom no privé thing is hid: I beseche thee so for to clense the entent of myn heart with the unspekable gift of thi grace that I may parfiteliche love thee, and worthilich preise thee. Amen.

Monday, June 20, 2016

A Walk in the Woods

Each year the Order of Julian of Norwich offers its affiliates a retreat. Most recently this event has taken place at the Redemptorist Center in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin. This year a special feature had been added to the grounds at the center. It is almost an understatement to call this a "feature." It is beautiful. It is breathtaking. It is holy. It is the Way of the Cross.

As you may know, the Way of the Cross, or Stations of the Cross, is a contemplative prayer practice, usually prayed during Lent. There are 14 stations or stops along the way. Prayers are said at each station. A relevant scriptural composite is also read. People actually move from station to station, often holding candles. They stop, pray, consider the event depicted and described. 

The Way of the Cross at the retreat center consists of bronze statues mounted on large "lannon" stone bases. If you've ever driven through Wisconsin, you will recognize the stone as those of the dells. These bases were quarried by a friend of the center, John P. Guiffre, who supervised the entire project, selecting the sites for each station, mounting the statues on the stones, creating the meandering path that leads the pray-er along through the Way. Mr. Guiffre died unexpectedly in January 2016, shortly after the project was completed.

The bronze statues are about four feet high; the stones are about two feet high. The path is difficult, narrow and hilly. I had to hold on to branches to keep myself from falling.

Even though it is not Lent, I want to share these images with you. I felt no reservation in praying the stations several times during the week that I was on retreat regardless of the season. At each station I prayed only what I could properly recall, even after many years of walking this way. It seemed to be sufficient.

We adore you, O Christ, and bless you,
Because of your holy Cross which has redeemed the world.

The First Station
Jesus is condemned to death

The Second Station
Jesus take sup his cross

The Third Station
Jesus falls the first time

The Fourth Station
Jesus meets his blessed mother

The Fifth Station
Simon of Cyrene is made to carry the cross

The Sixth Station
Veronica wipes the face of Jesus

The Seventh Station
Jesus falls the second time

The Eighth Station
Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem

The Ninth Station
Jesus falls the third time

The Tenth Station
Jesus is stripped of his garments

The Eleventh Station
Jesus is nailed to the cross

The Twelfth Station
Jesus dies on the cross

The Thirteenth Station
Jesus is taken down from the cross

and placed in the arms of his mother

The Fourteenth Station
Jesus is placed in the sepulcher

A Few Notes
Did you notice the absence of Jesus' mother at the fourth station? And where were the women of Jerusalem at the eighth station and Veronica at the sixth? You, the praying person, are to become these individuals. A close up of the fourth station shows Jesus' eyes cast downward. Mary is clearly crumpled up in a heap, sobbing at his feet.

The twelfth station is the only one where people are gathered. You may have your own view, but, for me, this indicates the whole of humanity saved by Jesus. I stood between these two and if felt like a multitude.

Look again at the eleventh station. See the hammer and the nails. See also the inscribed paper that will be affixed to the cross.

Here is a close up of the second station: Jesus taking his cross. It is viewed from the opposite side which you would normally see.

I was too eager to share these beautiful images to wait for Lent. But because our salvation is continuous and everlasting and, as Julian would say, from without beginning, here they are now, today, in our needful world.