Prayer by the book (2)

Title page from 'The Book of Common Prayer'

Title page, 'The Book of Common Prayer'

I have my children every other week. At night we pray. I’m not as consistent about it as I should be, but I find praying together valuable. Most often I use a prayer book, usually The Book of Common Prayer. Sometimes it’s the 1662 version. Other times the 1979, which is what we use at church.

Before Fionn went to bed tonight we said compline together. Felicity did not join us because she cashiered earlier on the couch. Traditionally, compline is the prayer service conducted just before sleep. The word indicates “completion.” The day is done and the proper thing—the wonderful thing—is turning our hearts to God one final time before slumber. Fionn and I did the service on my laptop and he read along.

I spent many of my formative years in a Christian tradition that stressed family worship. The father was the head of the household, the spiritual leader of the home, and thus the father led family worship. What did that look like, practically, day to day? Hard to say as our family wasn’t rigorous about it, though my dad probably wished us to be much more so. I find most family dynamics too complicated to sort out; the one working here no less so. When I got married all I knew was that my responsibility as the head of my family was to lead us in matters spiritual.

I botched that pretty well. I couldn’t lead myself spiritually. I was a mess. How was I supposed to lead my family? We’d get on a scripture-reading kick, and we were consistent about it in patches, but not enough, and I’m pretty certain that my wife was the one responsible for most of what we did accomplish. I know she was disappointed in my slack devotion. But if family dynamics concerning one’s parents are too complex to sort out, it’s worse when examining a failed marriage, particularly one’s own. I’ll not say more here than this: I’m sure that I’m more culpable than I like to think regarding the disintegration, and I’m sure my spiritual weakness was one of the corrosives that damaged the bonds.

So where does that leave me now?

We confess to God almighty,
the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost,
that we have sinned in thought, word and deed,
through our own grievous fault.
Wherefore we pray God to have mercy upon us.

Almighty God, have mercy upon us,
forgive us all our sins and deliver us from all evil,
confirm and strengthen us in all goodness,
and bring us to life everlasting;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen.

I can still hear Fionn’s little voice with all its annunciatory quirks filling my right ear as he reads the words with me, says them aloud, sends them to the throne. His sins are different than mine, but his need for grace is the same. He fidgets on my lap, focuses on the screen, and says his portions as the come. Near the end of the liturgy we alternate lines in the following couplets:

We will lay us down in peace and take our rest.
For it is thou, Lord, only that makest us dwell in safety.

Abide with us, O Lord,
for it is toward evening and the day is far spent.

As the watchmen look for the morning,
so do we look for thee, O Christ.

And when I hear him utter that final line, I know that God is gracious, that God is good.

A lot of my former categories have been blown apart or don’t seem to match my life today. That’s all right. They served in their place at their time. So I don’t care what it’s called, family worship, compline, or just “prayer time,” as Fionn says. All I know is that it brings us before God, allows us opportunity to repent, and provides a worshipful context and eloquent words with which to seek the grace we so desperately need.

About Joel J. Miller

I'm the author of Lifted by Angels, a look at angels through the eyes of the early church. Click here for more about me or subscribe to my RSS here.


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