This week we will be looking at the chapter of our Rule of Life on Prayer. Mornings are quiet and are nothing short of delicious and that is when I enjoy prayer. The air is cool, the sun is yellow and low and my gardens sparkle with nature’s baptismal waters calming and soothing the soul. No matter what went “bump” in the night and no matter how frightening life can seem at 3 a.m., morning seems to whisper that we need not be afraid and are indeed not alone. Mornings are is my time. For three or four hours I have a long runway into the day and I guard it jealously. With no land line and my cell phone in the car, I know that no phone will ring. The silence of a phone not ringing is not as sweet as the silence of a phone that cannot ring. With a dark roast coffee in hand, I make the rounds from house to studio (are there pots that need to be covered, trimmed before work, unloaded from the kilns?), to garden with Kai. I watch Kai, my black lab, as he pulls huge sticks parades them around the yard with the pride of an Olympic gold medal winner taking his victory lap.
The morning hours between rising and the drive to work are hours to be assured that “all manner of thing shall be well.” Drop thy still dews of quietness, Till all our strivings cease; These words come from the second stanza of my favorite hymn (Dear Lord and Father of Mankind, Hymn #653, usually sung in England to the Repton tune). I begin each day with this hymn. The hymns of our church are the molten core of our life together because they are the people’s theology. To hear Hymn 653 in Westminster Abbey see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=faNij71hh7o on the internet. You can hear the tune as it moves up what seems to be a set of stairs to each verse’s climax and into its final line – a constant return to the promise of praise and its resulting peace. The words of this hymn come from a long narrative poem called The Brewing of Soma by American Quaker poet John Greenleaf Whittier and describe the human desire to experience the divine – a place which, in other literature, the Christian Celtic mothers and fathers refer to as being just a few inches above our reach, swirling around us and drawing us into its silence from the noise of our world, like the Celtic knots of old. As the hymn reminds us, we are always being welcomed into a “reclothing … in our rightful mind” so that strain and stress is removed from our souls and “our strivings cease” and “our ordered lives confess” the beauty of God’s peace. My life gets its order from these morning meditations and assurances. As the child of alcoholics, I live with more than average hyper-vigilance. “Am I safe? Have I done enough? Am I good enough? Is there more I should be doing? Is my schedule impressive enough? Have I forgotten something?” These strivings are the Lion referred to in the Compline office: “Be sober, be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith.” 1 Peter 5:8-9a
As we write our Rule of life Chapter on Prayer we remember that in our morning prayers, walks, inventory-taking and meditations, we are establishing an order for the day to come, in which God can and will speak through the earthquakes, winds and fires of our life with stillness and calm; speaking the love we will spend the day distributing to each other. Praying the verses of our hymns can heal us, encourage us, and soothe us. These morning hours or minutes of prayer and meditation are not an escape, nor is self-absorption their aim. Rather, they are the garden from which a day will grow and thrive, or sprout and wither. And all the while, the angels swirl ’round us singing, “Grow, Grow, GROW!!!”
Dear Lord and Father of Mankind
( verses one, four and five)
Dear Lord and Father of mankind,
Forgive our foolish ways!
Re-clothe us in our rightful mind,
In purer lives thy service find,
In deeper reverence praise.
Drop thy still dews of quietness,
Till all our strivings cease;
Take from our souls the strain and stress,
And let our ordered lives confess
The beauty of thy peace.
Breathe through the heats of our desire
Thy coolness and thy balm;
Let sense be dumb, let flesh retire;
Speak through the earthquake, wind, and fire,
O still small voice of calm!