Saturday, February 28, 2015

A Prayerful Community at #CP15MN, or, Some Combination of Those Words

Last weekend, on Saturday-Sunday February 21-22, a group of 14 twenty- and thirty-somethings gathered for a retreat called Common Place. It happened at the ECMN Retreat Center on the campus of Shattuck-St. Mary's school in Faribault, Minnesota. Amanda and I were two of those 14 and, after this weekend, I would not hesitate to call any of the other attendees friends.

Thank you, ECMN for the uploading of the pictures!

The theme of the Common Place retreat was "Stories and Silence." There were five stories and five accompanying silences that happened, and I was asked to provide one of the stories. Initially I was told that my topic was "Prayer/Community." That seemed very broad and I felt totally unqualified to talk about community, but as I thought through it, a couple of stories came to mind, so I thought maybe it wouldn't be that bad. However, when I arrived at the retreat, the schedule said that my topic was "Prayer in Community." Then, shortly afterward, it was said as "Prayer and Community." Personally, I'm a bit of a grammar nerd so the conflict between preposition and conjunction was really messing with me. Before it finally came time for me to share my story, we settled the issue by calling the topic "Prayer-in-slash-and-slash-slash-Community." So I guess we just made it work.

[Before I go any farther, a statement of full disclosure: This post is a compilation of my notes and some responses from a Twitter poll that I took in preparing for my story. It's not the exact product that I presented at the retreat, but I hope that you find it worth the read here on my blog.]

In preparing for my story, I broke my topic into its parts in an attempt to make it less broad and a little more digestible. So that meant that as I was beginning I read each of the questions under the heading of "Prayer and Worship" on pages 856 and 857 of the Book of Common Prayer. I described how the Episcopal Catechism actually describes seven different kinds of prayer: adoration, praise, thanksgiving, penitence, oblation, intercession, and petition.

As I started tweeting my poll, I started here:
And these are the preliminary answers:

Immediately, I was taken aback by the ready response of my "tweeps." The was such depth of contemplation. Not only that, but the responses kept coming in! I had more than enough to work with when I began my story, but as responses continued to come in, I knew that I would need to put all these together in one place to convey more of my gratitude and awe for the responses that I got. So I moved on to the first type of prayer listed in the BCP.


Personally, I feel like I offer prayers of adoration most often. Whenever I see the sun rise, or whenever I'm running, my prayer does not even take on words. My adoration of God just spontaneously rises out of me.


(Marlayna had a series of tweets that were all really good... I'm only including a couple here, though)


I can give thanks at a meal, but to really honestly thank God for all the opportunities in my life, I am really bad and remembering to do that.




(because the BCP deals with these two as different sides of the same coin):

Finally, this last type of prayer, petition, is the one that I feel I have in spades. For me, this prayer usually takes on these words: “hear my prayer, O God, and let my cry come to you.” Those words come up many times in the psalms and that idea is all over the place.

I really liked the way that this part of my "story" worked while I was on the retreat. I didn't really want to talk at everyone and give them a lecture on the seven types of prayer, so instead I invited everyone into discussion. I would read the question and answer from the BCP, maybe offer a couple of tweets that I had received in an effort to prime the pump, and then ask everyone what they thought. Personally, I really liked the way that that went. The teacher in me was very pleased that everyone on the retreat was able to digest these snippets of information, let it resonate with them, and then articulate that resonance with the group.

But at some point, I needed to move on from the discussion so that I could finish the topic that I had been given.

The next part of the topic was the "Community" aspect. As I began this part on the retreat, I immediately stated that I felt like the least credible person to speak about community... for all that I might talk and write about the Church as the community of all the baptized, I'm an extreme introvert, so actually interacting with the real people who make up my community is hard for me. I always feel like I'm outside of my comfort zone when I'm talking with people at church. Nonetheless, It fell to me to talk about the way that prayer is present in community.

I was able to start by simply quoting the words of Jesus: "Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them" (Matthew 18:20). That particular verse is really useful in talking about community, since Jesus was talking about the way that his followers should go about fixing relationships in their group when someone had hurt a brother or sister.

From there, I went on to describe what I wrote recently for an Acts 8 BLOGFORCE Challenge. The topic was "What is a congregation?" and I immediately admitted that it's a slightly different concept than the "community" that I had for this talk on the retreat. But by the same token, I also felt that it was worth bringing in a description of "the community of all believers," which is called a congregation or, more ostensibly, the Church. But by any rate, I quoted my own blog entry and said:
In Episcopal circles, a congregation is usually united together by common baptismal vows (although I will admit that I am not inclined to turn a stranger away from the community because they have not been baptized). Through those vows, we have been given a mission. And since each of us are a member of the Church, we are each a part of the Body of Christ. "Christ has... no hands on earth now but yours" (which is commonly attributed to St. Teresa of Avila). The part of the baptismal covenant that speaks most powerfully to me with the charge "Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?" Whenever I renew my vows, I respond to this charge most enthusiastically, "I will, with God's help!"

Me, being me, I wanted to offer a couple other images of community, so the next one was this description that I call "parish respiration" (which I also was using in my Acts 8 BLOGFORCE entry). It starts simply by stating that we, as the Church, are filled and sustained and directed by the Spirit. In Greek, that word is pneuma, which means "breath," which is also why I call this process "respiration."

This image begins with the Church breathing in and gathering all its members into the parish building. It is a community which worships together, gains sustenance and learning, and then is breathed back into the world to love and serve. To go out, seeking Christ and being Christ for others. And there will come a time when the Church breathes itself back together for worship and sustenance, which will be followed by another breath out, which sends the Church into the world again. In terms of prayer and community, I think this image of parish respiration is rich with metaphors and analogies useful for understanding the function of prayer and the place of community. Being able to offer that to my peers on the retreat was very moving and humbling and life-giving for me.

At this point in my blog post, I actually need to pause the account of what I presented at the retreat. I had written in my notes that I wanted to present an actual story of at time that prayer and community was crucial for me... it didn't fit into the time that I had for my story, but now I have the opportunity to offer it here! This story is from the summer of 2010, when I was the head counselor at Thunderhead Episcopal Camp in South Dakota. At TEC (yes, I know there's a conflict of acronyms there; deal with it), each camp session is ended by a Eucharistic celebration at a place we call the cliffs. To get to the place, it's about a mile and a half hike from the camp, or two- or three-mile drive along a really crummy gravel road. As far as I can tell, there's nothing that particularly distinguishes this spot from other spot along the ridge, except that it is the spot that has been chosen as ours to celebrate these very special liturgies at the end of camp sessions. 

No, that's not the summer that I was there.
But I need to thank Portia for the
picture! (She's the one on the far left...)

The year that I was head counsellor, we had a session of camp that was supposed to end on a jam-packed day. We had an outing for which we had rented vans, we were supposed to finish our prayer partner activities, we had to eat dinner (I know, crazy right?), as well as hike out the the cliffs for the closing Eucharist. So it must have been sometime around lunch when the program director looks at me and says "I don't think we have enough time for everything... we might have to skip something, but we also need to do everything. You have any ideas?" So I thought for a minute and said, "What if we did a Rite III Eucharist?"

For some of you, dear readers, who have not descended to the depths of Episco-geekiness that I have, Rite III is a form in the Book of Common Prayer that is essentially based in rubrics; rather than giving you an actual printout of prayers and readings, it gives you something like categories that need to be filled in order to have a valid Eucharist. It begins on page 400, if you're interested in taking a look.

What we ended up doing was first combining the Liturgy of the Word with dinner. That meant that our call to worship was the dinner bell and our opening prayer was grace and thanksgiving for the food (I love it when my stomach and my heart can be so closely aligned). As everyone was eating, we read the lessons (which was very monastic of us) and the Gospel concluded dinner. So we cleaned up our dishes and the dining hall and moved outside to distribute the elements. This part I really liked, since the Offertory in a parish context can be really odd... the bread and the wine go up to the altar, we take up a collection of money, and then everyone stands up as the money goes to the altar, which can be misconstrued that we respect the money more than the things that will be revealed as Eucharist. But in this offering at camp, the whole congregation literally carried the bread and the wine up to the altar atop the ridge, looking out over the valley. And when we got there, to the top of the cliffs with the awesome vista that you saw in Portia's picture, it felt absolutely transcendent. The experience of worship and offering and the prayers that were offered there felt to me as authentic an corporate as I have ever felt them.

And when we were done, that congregation was not only breathed out of the place where we worshipped, but we were even breathed out of the camp, all the way out into the world that had no knowledge of the worship we had had with that community.

The last thing that I did in my story at the Common Place retreat was to thank everyone who was listening and participating. You see, as I had been presenting the different kinds of prayer, lunch was being set up. So at one point we did pause, go get some food, and bring our plates back so that we could continue to talk and eat. So as I finished up my talk on Prayer/Community, I thanked everyone for their contributions and said I couldn't possibly have done it without them... it was with through their companionship that we were talking about prayer, and it was so poetic that this talk happened concurrently with lunch.

Meals are so important to community. And food bonds people, the way that prayer can. There is a fairly popular icon that depicts the Trinity as three figures gathered around a table with a plate of food and a cup of something to drink. It highlights how the Trinity has that companionship in community and their worship is centered in food. In fact, the word companion means the person or people with whom you break bread together (pan is the Latin word for "bread" and com is the prefix for "together").

So, in turn, I thank you for reading and I hope we might all have communities in which we may break bread together.

~ ~ ~

What do you think about any of the seven kinds of prayer? Do you feel fulfilled when you use them in community, or maybe you would like to be more intentional about using them? Please share your reflections in the comments below. Otherwise, you can join with me in conversation on Facebook or Twitter (which is especially appropriate with all the tweets I embedded in this post... please take the poll if you wish)! Additionally, you can subscribe to my blog by email with the subscription bar in the navigation menu on the right-hand side of this page, and/or send me a friend request/follow me to make that social connection and participate in a deeper dialogue that way. Thanks!