Rule #3 Liturgy

Common Prayer

This has been a trying week for the Howard household.  Ted got sick on Friday, the same day my father-in-law had a heart attack.  On Monday he had open-heart triple bypass surgery.  (He is doing just great now, by the way, way beyond how the average person recovers).  On Tuesday, Henry got sick and the roofers came to our house to bang on it for several hours to replace our roof that was severely damaged in a hail storm this summer.  Today, Friday, I am sick with whatever Henry had and a nice migraine on top of that.

Some weeks just suck.

But there is a way to see past that into the goodness and hope that belongs to a corner of every day.  That way is liturgy.  I don’t come from a high-church tradition, and frankly, was taught that we didn’t do liturgy because we want our words to come from the heart.  But there are days when I have no words.  Days like Monday when my husband was scared out of his mind that he might lose his father.  Days like Tuesday when I wasn’t sure how I would make it through the day.  All those days when depression takes my words away.  Days when I know the words are somewhere in my heart, but I can’t reach them.

I have come to love liturgy because it puts those words in my mouth again.  Sometimes, most times for me, when I don’t know what to say to God, I say what thousands of other Christians have said before me.  I say the words of hope and love and goodness that have been passed up from the centuries. I say simple prayers: “Help me,” “Forgive me,” “Have Mercy on Me.”   I say words from a book like Common Prayer (a version of The Book of Common Prayer that Ted and I like to use).

Or I say the prayer Jesus taught us to pray.  I say it over and over again until the shapes of the words in my mouth become my mouth, and the sounds they make become my sound.  I strive to let these be the words that rule my day, seeing the vision of hope that God whispers in my ear.

Our Father in heaven,

hallowed be your name.

Your kingdom come,

your will be done,

on earth as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread,

and forgive us our debts,

as we also have forgiven our debtors.

And lead us not into temptation,

but deliver us from evil.

For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory, forever.



How to Read the Bible

I just finished reading The Blue Parakeet: Rethinking How You Read the Bible by Scot McKnight. I learned of this book from my former preacher’s blog, who always gives great book recommendations (and of course his review of this book is much better than mine, so you should probably just read his).

This is the best and easiest to read book on hermeneutics I have ever read. (Of course, this is the only book on hermeneutics I have ever read.)  So, take my review for what it’s worth – just a humble opinion.  And of course, the point is, that this could be your first book on hermeneutics too.  By the way, if you don’t know what this term means, no worries, I shall explain.  (I wish someone would have explained it to me earlier, so that I wouldn’t have had to nod my head in fake understanding for all those years).  Hermeneutics  is a fancy name for how to read or interpret a text, usually the Bible.

So here’s what I learned about how to read the Bible:

  • We should always read the Bible in the larger context of Story.  According to McKnight, here’s the basic plot of the Bible:  oneness (Adam and Eve and God together), otherness (the fall, until…), oneness again (through Christ and the church).  We are currently continuing to live the text, creating oneness with God and the world.  We are part of a continuing story; part of a book!
  • We should also recognize that we all “pick and choose” what scriptures we listen to the most. One verse can be more important than another.  The trick is in discerning what bits to apply to our lives today.  McKnight likes to say that God speaks to everyone “in their own day, in their own way.”  We must determine, with (not through) the Great Tradition, the Holy Spirit, and our community how to interpret the word of God for us today.
  • And this discerning of what to apply to our lives today is murky. Everyone will have a difference of opinion, and I’m starting to rest in the diversity of Christian thought.  For instance, we all pretty much agree that it’s okay to wear Polyester (at least we did in the 70’s), but not everyone is so sure about allowing women the right to teach and preach in church (a subject that McKnight uses as a case study for discerning).

As I am trying to determine how to read and apply scripture today, I feel that McKnight has given me a good primer, a good lens through which to read God’s word.  However, McKnight also boils our reading of scripture down to this lovely and challenging quote:  “If you are doing good works, you are reading the Bible aright.  If you are not doing good works, you are not reading the Bible aright.”

It basically comes down to that, so let’s get to work.

How do you go about reading the Bible?

Rewriting the Bible

A while back, my Bible class started using something called the 3 Column Bible Study as a tool to better understand scripture.  Here’s how it works: You pick a small passage, copy the scripture in your own hand, rewrite the scripture in your own words, and then create an “I will” statement based on what you learned.

I’ve really enjoyed doing this in the past, always discovering something new about a passage each time I do it, gaining a better understand of who God is and how I can best be His servant.

This week in my devotional, I came across a short passage about anxiety (Philipians 4: 6-7) that I decided to rewrite.

Here’s the actual scripture from the NIV:

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

Now here is my rewrite (I always seem to be more long-winded than the authors of the Bible):

“Do not worry about anything — not about your job, not whether your children are safe, not whether your loved one might die.  But in all these circumstances, pray to God.  Show him you are thankful for what he has given you.  Give this worry to God.  He might not change your circumstances, but he will send you the gift of peace.  He will help you change your attitude about whatever you are going through.  This peace that he sends you will work on you in a mysterious way.  Suddenly your world seems blessed instead of down-trodden, suddenly the center of the universe is not your concerns but God’s concerns.”

Honestly, I’m not brave enough to put down an “I will” statement yet.  “I will’s” are a commitment.  I don’t know if I’m honestly ready to give up my anxiety.  Sometimes it forms a security blanket around me because it is all I know, and I trust it.  I would rather trust God, but He is a mysterious character.  I don’t know him as well as I know my anxiety.  Perhaps if I did, my anxiety would be transformed into peace.