Tag Archives: clergy

Collecting our thoughts: opening prayer

 

The part they never seem to remember to do in the “opening prayer” (also called the collect in some churches) is the part where everyone prays silently for a while. What I didn’t realise as a child, is silent prayer is the part where noone can tell you what to pray, you do not have to conform to anyone else’s idea of God or priorities so there is a possibility to be very genuine and liberated in the silence (which is often not observed). I am irritated that the missal says “celebrant and people pray silently for a while” so that the celebrant is not “people” and there is a line drawn even when everyone is doing the same thing and could theoretically be on the same level.

Although the collect is not placed within the liturgy of the word in the missal, it always seemed part of it because it referenced the readings and because that was the point where I had to turn to the blue ribbon (readings of the week) instead of the red ribbon (order of service). When you turn to the mass of the day the collect is set out like this.

The celebrant says, “Let us pray” and then in the silence there is a bit in square brackets that tells you what to pray for. The irony here is of course that not everyone is a pious little eight year old who got a missal for their first holy communion so most people have no idea what is in the square brackets, so it controls the thoughts only of the priest and little girls like me…except little girls like me and perhaps some priests used to sometimes rebel against what they were told to pray…but then again I was too pious to do it on purpose usually (I am a bit disgusted at my former self).

So the prayer itself would be sort of a spoiler for the readings which I think is Ok in so far it tells us what readings are coming up (we all watch TV where ads serve roughly the same purpose and we are used to our attention being grabbed with teasers) but it is a bit of a pity actually that an official interpretation of what we are supposed to take out of our readings is put upon us before we even get the readings.

I like having the readings so close to the beginning of the service and even though I do choose a theme, hymns etc when I write a liturgy (I guess all that is also colonising how people hear the readings) I try to avoid giving them a commentary (as used to be done when I was a kid) either at the beginning of the service or just before the readings (as I suspect my community wouldn’t allow me to do in any case). But I say that about being told how to interpret and then I read the collects for this week (the second week of Easter) and they are actually worded to be reasonably broad. Apart from the kyriearchal way of addressing God we are pretty free to read whatever we want into the prayer that tells us this is all about our own “eternal life” journey within through the Jesus story. Then the gospel is all about Thomas and his suspicion that the resurrection was “fake news” (can you tell I was tempted to neglect the project I started and just do the readings this week?).

So anyway, I decided not to “do” the readings but perhaps I can try to write a collect. Not because there is all that much wrong with the official collects in the book, but because I just feel liturgy really should be “work of the people” and we should all always be struggling for meanings and articulations instead of just accepting what is handed down (the eternal line drawn between celebrant and people and the celebrant even only obeying the way he is told to celebrate).

So then, let us pray

[each seeking to see past the possible fake news to real hope in our world…but also each free to pray without anyone else’s command]

God of truth,

Was it because a woman brought the news that it was so hard for some to believe? Is it harder to believe what disreputable people tell us? What greenies, or lefties, or bleeding hearts say? What refugees, or Muslims, or queers wish is to remember about our shared humanity? Are we too frightened to listen to the scientists who tell us in their secular way to “repent” because we believe we have killed you and that God is forever dead in our history now?

Would it be easy to simply believe in everything and allow all truths to comfort us that God will make a kingdom of rescuing and all we need to do is sing “alleluia, alleluia” and remain blind? Is it also too easy to listen to the people who claim to have seen things with their own eyes and claim to “know” that people on welfare are rorting the system, and people on low wages are greedy and people with darker skin are a threat to our way of life? Is it easier to punish than to try to understand and to look for “strong values”?

How do we weave our honest fabric of human love between Thomas’ skepticism verging on despair and every truth that jumps out to reassure us that everything is ok and we can stay in our cocoon? Be alive to us. Touch us with the truth that still bears wounds, but also wants to eat with us and honour the human way of being. Show us how to resurrect the hope that commissions us to preach and heal and love the world.

Amen

Ok, I gave it my best shot. My collect is far too long and complicated and biased (just when I finished saying keeping it vague so people encounter the readings themselves is better). Also I think a collect is meant to be a statement of focus rather than a bunch of questions. I will leave it as part of my “learning journey” here but this is a rare occasion when I acknowledge that it might be best to go “back to the book” (with adustments to make language more inclusive of course).

The greater gifts- liberation, transformation, repentance, challenge

19:14 Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.

Hey look, I know how we are supposed to take this week’s readings. Going to church on Sundays is important, organised religion is wonderful and the elevated status of the clergy is a valid and healthy “difference” ordained (pun intended) by God. Well you can believe that if you want right after you pour a glass of wine for the tooth fairy and feed my winged swine.

Ok I am being a bit extreme, to be fair I AM probably going to church on Sunday and I DO appreciate having a sense of community (not a hierarchical prison) in my faith and there are differences in the way we all minister to the world and thank God for that. But the way these readings are traditionally preached about “yay yay yay Gooooooooooooo church” doesn’t cut it for me in my marginal non-ordainable dirty female space where I can’t keep as silent as I am supposed to. Cause the church is not perfect and most aspects of it do need to be problematised, especially the inequities when it comes to power. And the closed-mindedness on these issues by the clergy, even often decent men who are in some ways great human beings but love their collared privilege too much to ask the deeper questions…that is pure toxin to the life of the body of Christ. Because parts of bodies all need to be treated with care and respect for the whole to thrive. You can figure your toes are less important than your face, but then you might get gangrene in them.

So I felt a bit sick about the celebratory tone of this week’s readings like I always do after the Lord’s prayer when the priest (or someone) says “Look not on our sins but on the faith of your church” all smug like as if the church’s faith is so shining bright it makes up for all our sins. We say “don’t look at how I treat refugees, look at how shiny white bleached the priest’s chasuble is. Don’t look at the way we abuse children, look at how well we polish candle sticks. Don’t look at the fate of the widow and orphan in our land, close your eyes and enjoy us chanting “Lord, Lord, Lord” in a euphoric incense high.”

But what does today’s gospel add to all the self-congratulation of the celebrating church with its “different” gifts that not everyone can have?

Ok it starts of as Jesus the super-preacher doing the right thing by his church and going back to the “official church” instead of breaking free (the part you usually hear about when people preach on this Sunday). But what does he actually say his mission is? To make an easy life for a small elite number of dude-bros? To make the most beautiful liturgy full of spiritual valium to quiet the conscience of the middle classes? To build higher and higher monuments to tell God that we PRAISE him?

Jesus’ reads a traditional text to explain his mission:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free,  to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Jesus is here to upset the status quo, to change the world to bring material change to those who are not having a great time. For him to do that imagine what that would actually mean for the privileged? For us?

But it’s ok isn’t it, because Jesus means some sort of eschatological future fulfilment of all things in the heavenly kingdom.  His not mixing religion and politics is he? He’s not actually criticising our church or our society?

“Today” Jesus says “This is being fulfilled today”. The presence of Christ means changing the world. The presence of Christ means an end to captivity, blindness and oppression. Can the church take it? Do we still want to celebrate this charismatic young preacher?

Pray God I will summon up the courage to reflect on what Jesus wants me (yes me) to do to further his mission. Which oppressed people am I keeping from God’s transforming grace?