Mthr. Cinnamon Blomquist
Devotional Life and the Book of Common Prayer
One of my earliest memories of daily devotions features a classroom full of nine-year-olds at the end of an early 1960s English school day, fidgeting with the books we are supposed to be reading, giving sidelong glances at the clock on the end wall. Finally, the minute hand reaches twelve. “Clear desks! Chairs on desks!” And with much scraping and banging, we lift our chairs and set them on top of the desks—to make the cleaners’ tasks easier. Then, peering through the forest of chair legs, we announce in unison,
Lighten-our-darkness-we-beseech-thee, O Lord,
This daily liturgy was as formative, I believe, as it remains unforgettable. At the very least it helped my nine-year-old mind take God for granted, as real as the chair legs and the smell from the enamel stove that heated our classroom, and the sense of orderly security it helped affirm—though I’m sure I had only the haziest idea what “beseech” meant!
When Fr. Adam asked if I would write on the Devotional Life and the Prayer Book for this week’s Newsletter, my initial thought after agreeing was the all-too-predictable guilt trip—I may be a cradle Anglican, but, Lighten-our-darkness aside, I never did acquire the common Anglican habit of saying the Daily Office on a daily basis. But that aside, let’s concentrate on that key word, habit.
Just last Sunday, we were introduced to BLESS, a set of practices for sharing the Gospel originating in the Evangelical Covenant Church. I was struck by the introduction, which described “a simple way of growing in habits about sharing the gospel.” A little further on these were referred to as “ordinary-life habits.” There’s that word again.
Until recently, my devotional habit was shaped by rhythms and routines that had me at Old Town Hill in Newbury in the early morning hours walking our Labrador, now deceased. And, against the advice of C.S. Lewis who counsels against saying one’s prayers “in nature,” that’s where I prayed, rain or shine, beginning always with the Lord’s Prayer. The Lord’s Prayer is, I have come to see, simply a more economical version of the prayers I would follow it with. The basic shape of my daily prayers is to set aside the bad habit of only turning to God as a band-aid, a source of extra help for my plans and needs, and to substitute the good habit of putting God at the center, asking that He prepare me for His tasks—in the same spirit as the Post-Communion Prayer has it, “Send us out to do the work you have given us to do.”
All this takes practice, as you could doubtless tell me. Those who compiled the Book of Common Prayer were, happily, fully aware of this need. They knew that to develop these good habits is far from easy, but central to the life of Faith. By developing them, we are learning to cooperate with God, learning to exchange “the law of sin and death” for the “law of life.” Is there anything more important?
When we worship together or—as I often seem to do—stumble through personal devotions, we are participating in a miracle. Our human condition meets the divine grace. God invites us fearfully-and-wonderfully-made humans, full of our own troubles and surrounded by the world’s pain, to step into the miracle of our transformation into the image of Him who made us.
So let’s be encouraged, and let’s encourage one another, to embrace the devotional life, so that we may become the people God calls us to be. “Lighten our darkness, we beseech thee, O Lord!”