Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Of liturgy and lectionary

This week is the last before advent.  This means that I have a decision to make: will I be buying a copy of the lectionary for the next year, which begins this coming Sunday?

This year has been something of an experiment.  Since the end of last November I have been using Morning Prayer, and most days Evening Prayer, as my main devotional time, praying through the liturgy from Common Worship and following the readings from the lectionary.  Recently I have been reflecting on the good and bad points, the helpful and the less helpful, that have come out of the experiment.  Here are a few of them.

Good points:
1.  Lots of Bible.  I have never read so much in the Psalms as I have done over the last year, and I am sure that has been good for my view of God and my praying in general.  Also, having an OT and an NT reading every day has meant a good balance.  In the past, when I have sometimes read devotionally through a single book of Scripture quite slowly and in some detail, I have noticed the danger of getting a one-sided view of things (and, the summer I read through Jeremiah, sometimes a fairly miserable view), which this helpfully avoids.

2  Puts the Bible in the context of the gospel.  Because the seasons of the liturgical year are based on and shaped by the events of the gospel (although I will qualify this a little below), Scripture reading is placed in the context of the life and work of Christ.  This discourages a moralistic reading, or a quick jump to 'application', and encourages the reading of Scripture as fundamentally witness to him.

3  Good for mornings.  I am not really a morning person, and getting going can be difficult.  Launching straight into prayer is hard.  But when you're weary - and as any parent will tell you, that basically means 'when you're awake' - it is helpful to have some structure that is well thought through and well written to get you started.  By the time I get to the allotted part of the service for personal prayer, I am usually more awake and more 'in the mood' than when I started.

4.  Good for catholicity.  I have enjoyed the fact that evening though I have been using the liturgy solo - which is of course not its design - I have felt connected to something bigger, being aware that there are many people focussing on just these readings and praying just these prayers today.

And some bad things:
1.  Danger of ritualism.  I definitely feel the temptation to rely on the forms to get me into the presence of God.  There is a danger that, rather than being an introduction and warm-up for personal prayer, the set prayers become the be-all and end-all of my praying.

2.  Annoyance of the semi-reformation.  Anglicanism is characterised by nothing more, in my mind, than it's half-reformed nature, and that shows in some of the festivals that one is encouraged to keep.  Since the lectionary readings go with the festivals, it's been hard to dodge all of them (although I have ignored the various saints days).  I have no strong objection to commemorating the apostles, but some of the festivals are just a bit odd - what in the world is Holy Cross Day?  The calendar could do with some reforming.

3.  Holes in the lectionary.  I suppose because it is designed for public reading, the lectionary skips over some of the hard bits of Scripture.  That's a shame, but it has been easy enough for me to just fill in the gaps.  I do wonder - and I'm sure someone must know - whether I would ever get through the whole of Scripture following this arrangement, and if so how long it would take.

All in all, I lean towards continuing, or perhaps adapting slightly more to 'Protestantise' the praying.  Any thoughts?


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  2. Thanks Daniel. Enjoyed this post. Sounds interesting--can you give a clearer idea of what each day looks like? I'm currently working through Carson's For the Love of God (book i) which I enjoy though approach in a somewhat haphazard manner. Some of the pros are true for that too, and some of the cons aren't. I'm not saying it's better, but why would you choose this over something like Carson / Robert Murray M'Chene reading plan?

  3. Thanks JBF. You can see what Morning/Evening Prayer look like here; http://www.churchofengland.org/prayer-worship/join-us-in-daily-prayer.aspx

    I've done FTLOG a few times (I think twice through book one and once through book two). Wouldn't want to knock it at all. One of the things I've enjoyed more about doing it this way is that the emphasis is less on the intellectual and more on prayer/praise. I suspect horses for courses...