Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Going To The Office

(Also posted on Open Thou Our Lips, a group blog about spiritual practices I'm a part of.)

I've made a few attempts over the years of usually-sporadic church attendance to do some sort of structured "daily devotions". To make a longish story short, I have discovered the resource literally under my nose in the Book of Common Prayer and started reading Compline more or less daily. It is, in my mind, a good one for beginners to start out on - short and no canticle-choosing or Bible-flipping to worry about. Now that I have the ever so convenient Daily Office Book with the Bible readings, I occasionally do Morning Prayer or Evening Prayer with readings and canticles, but Compline's become as much of a before-bed habit as brushing my teeth.

Now that I have discovered the riches contained in the non-Eucharistic services in the BCP (with special props to bls for her enthusiasm and the Ship of Fools Daily Office thread for a lot of great info), I usually jump at the chance to do the Office communally, especially if there is music involved. (I am somewhat embarrassed to admit that I was part of a Cathedral congregation for years where Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer were offered daily and EP was sung twice weekly, and rarely availed myself of the opportunity. In my defense, there was usually Work and a Commute in the way.) I speed-read through Compline most evenings and the slower pace that actually articulating the words requires stops and makes me pause; in addition, the music often opens doors in my mind that the text alone won't.

I do get regular opportunities to participate in singing the Office with others, as my (new) parish runs Evensong once a month with all the trimmings (incense, a schola, sermon, and an organ recital to follow). But I had a wonderful, wonderful experience this past week at a gathering of people from the Ship of Fools forums doing a communal Night Prayer, aka Compline, service, the music for which had been carefully put together by a very experienced church musician. Like, so experienced that I just loved to hear him talk with the others, even though I had only a quarter of a clue what they were on about some times. (Link posted by kind permission, and more info about the details here.)

It was fab-yoo-lous to have a real time, real life worship service with members of my online Christian community. (*) While I am used to doing collective Offices "with the trimmings", and I enjoy "the trimmings", this was to me a reminder of what is at the core. The space was instantly transformed; the every day was made sacred. I stepped into another dimension. I started crying during the familiar prayers ("Keep watch, dear Lord ..."), I was that moved.

But in a lot of ways, the two really best parts of the service for me happened "before" and "after".

"Before", the gentleman who did the music explained how to sing texts pointed for Anglican chant in a way that I understood. I have sung plenty of Anglican chant in my time, but I was doing it by ear. Now that I Know The Rules, I am singing it confidently. And since I'm not worrying about where to change my notes, I'm contemplating the text (and am willing to try singing at home, where I don't have a lot of excellent musicians backing me up). [Watch this space for "Chanting for Beginners" shortly.]

"After", there was a Q and A session and a lot of interest shown by people who were unfamiliar with the Office. (Which really chuffed me, even though people who know more than I were doing the answering.) One participant who is active in the British alt.worship scene remarked that it was a direction alt.worshippers were heading in; renewal and sustenance coming through the ancient and sometimes-obscure forms.

(*) I know a lot of people who do the Office by themselves have a real sense of community with everyone else who is doing the Office; I don't really get that unless I am actually doing it with someone else around.

In re Compline, I think it's not only a good way for "office newbies" to start out, it's a good "seeker service" when done as an act of corporate worship because the No Sermon (etc.) means less bad "God baggage" to some. I had heard for years (even before I was on the Ship) that St. Mark's Seattle has a full house weekly for their sung Compline service - no sermon and indeed no audience participation required, except a request to stand at the Creed. Their Schola is quite fine, and if you happen to be near a broadband computer at 9:30 pm Sunday Pacific time, you can listen in on KING-FM.

As I was discussing with one of the Shipmates at another point in the event, it's like the Christmas-and-Easter people; we'd love you to come more often, but ideally we will try to meet you where you are. (As we often say in the Prayers of the People, "may all those seeking God find Him, and be found by Him".)

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