It’s snowing in Ottawa, so there’s a chance our first Lenten School of Prayer may be cancelled tonight. I have been very much looking forward to this gathering, but driving during rush hour this evening looks like an unwise decision.
We were to be discussing the first three chapters in David Torkington’s Wisdom from the Christian Mystics: How to Pray the Christian Way.
It’s interesting that I am re-reading this book at the same time as I am watching the Netflix series Shtisel, about an extended family of ultra-Orthodox Jews living in Jerusalem. I highly recommend this series.
In Shtisel, I see how the everyday practices of these family members help them to constantly live inside the Story of God’s love for His people. For example, every time one of them enters a room, they touch the mezuzah on the door post and kiss their fingers afterwards. Every time they have even a glass of water from the tap, they say a blessing. As I gently try to return my attention to God in the present moment, whatever I am doing, I appreciate the opportunity to see these observances.
Torkington writes about how Jesus’ daily prayer life and that of his followers prior to the Resurrection was informed by the practices of every orthodox Jew.
He notes the importance of considering Jesus’ so-called hidden years in the light of his Jewish religious practices.
“This enables us to see and understand how what was shared with his fellow Jewish disciples before the Resurrection was transformed after the Resurrection,” Torkington writes. “You will not find all this detailed in Scripture, not because it was unimportant, but because it wasn’t considered necessary to detail what everyone knew, what everyone practised every day of their lives, as Jesus had done before them.”
Torkington stresses the need to recover the “profound mystical spirituality that Jesus practised every day with his disciples. Then see how it was continued and brought to perfection after his glorification, to transform the lives of all Christians by teaching them the daily prayer that leads to the praying without ceasing.”
Catholic life was once much more infused with this kind of daily prayer—bells ringing the Angelus several times a day so people in the fields could stop to pray, roadside shrines, pilgrimages, processions, fastings, and so on. Many Catholics are trying to recover these practices.
One thing I was so grateful for as a Catholic of Anglican tradition in the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter, is how we live inside the Redemption Story by entering into the seasons of the Church year in our liturgical calendar. During my years as an evangelical Christian, we focused on Christmas and Easter, with barely a nod to anything else. We had an Advent ladies’ brunch and a Maundy Thursday communion service during which our pastor used to read from the Book of Common Prayer, interestingly enough. But Ash Wednesday, Annunciation, Pentecost, Ascension and so on, were mostly ignored.
I was also grateful for Morning and Evening Prayer —the daily offices—that helped immerse me in Scripture every day, and not just the favorite verses, but the whole of it in a pattern of Old Testament promise and New Testament fulfillment.
One particular story line is staying with me. It’s about one of the characters who has a beautiful singing voice and auditions to be a lead singer in a wedding band. His wife is encouraging him to do it. He fancies the idea. But coming to a rehearsal, the man is a little shocked by the way the band members are partying. He asks what had happened to the previous lead singer and finds out that he had become enamored by the praise and attention, had begun to look at his wife negatively after comparing her to the women who were admiring his singing. The former lead singer ditched his wife and family and his religion to seek his fortune, trying to be a professional singer in Tel Aviv.
The man returns home and finds his wife sleeping on the couch. She had told him she would wait up for him, because she has been very excited about his taking on the job and using his singing gift. He looks at her sleeping and decides on the spot to call the band leader and say he would not sing for them.
His singing was amazing, and the two songs he sang on the series were renditions of Psalms. Yet, he gives this up, because he sees the possible trajectory of making that choice. Interesting. How many of us in the west even think in those terms, because self-fulfillment is the be all and end all. Perhaps that decision would be frowned upon, or laughed at, the way Vice President Pence’s self-imposed rule of never having a meal alone with a woman not his wife is ridiculed.
What ways over Lent can we endeavor to show we put God first in our lives?