Prayer in a pandemic

Dear colleagues,

Over the course of the past summer, college staff recognized, with regret, that we wouldn’t be able to worship in person in St. Luke’s Chapel. We also recognized that maintaining our pre-pandemic schedule of ten worship services per week online would test the patience and screen-time limits of our community. The result is the schedule that we are all becoming familiar with. We still pray the Daily Office, but we don’t pray Morning and Evening Prayer together every day. Rather than celebrate the Eucharist together on Friday morning, we gather for gospel-based discipleship. We still meet at mid-day on Wednesdays, but not for Eucharist.

It would be a mistake to think, however, that just because we’ve reduced the number of services we have together this semester, we should also reduce the depth or frequency of how we pray. In fact, I think one of the great gifts of this semester is the opportunity to explore new forms of prayer. I’ve been grateful to hear from some of you about how you are doing this, and I want to share with you some ideas I’ve heard from you and others about the patterns of prayer that are sustaining you in these unusual days.

  • Singing hymns and songs: “When you sing, you pray twice” goes the old saying (usually wrongly attributed to St. Augustine). One of my favourite things to do is to find versions of my favourite hymns on YouTube and sing along. Many of us are also learning how to sing along with the wonderful hymns we have as part of our Wednesday service—with our Zoom carefully muted, of course. And remember the wise words of the American poet Henry Van Dyke: “The world would be very quiet if no birds sang there but those that sang best.”
  • Compline: One of the great blessings of this semester has been gathering for a service of Compline on Tuesday evenings. But there are six other nights in the week, and a variety of liturgies to choose from on our Moodle site. If you find you need a clear marker to delineate your evening activity from your bedtime, that is what Compline is designed for.
  • The Daily Office: While many of us are used to praying the Daily Office together, you can also pray on your own. Perhaps you don’t have time for the whole rite: you can still pray individual parts of it, like the collect or a canticle, or you can read one of the Bible passages set for the day.
  • Reading theologians and other devotional works: I met someone this summer who reads a portion of Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics every day for devotional purposes. I confess that is not a practice that has ever occurred to me. But the wisdom of the Christian tradition is not contained only in the Bible, its liturgies, or its hymnody. There are a lot of resources out there that provide little snippets of the writing of theologians on a daily basis.
  • Centring prayer and meditation: The practice of being still in God’s presence has deep roots in the Christian tradition. There are some wonderful apps for your phone that help lead you into this practice.

That’s just a few ideas as we look to the semester ahead. Above all, remember the wise words some of us heard on our retreat last September: pray as you can, not as you can’t.

What is keeping you going in this time?

Faithfully yours,

This message was written by Principal Jesse Zink for this week’s Wingèd Ox, a weekly news digest distributed to the college community.