Monthly Archives: May 2010

To celebrate Pentecost at Upper Room yesterday, we did not have a sermon.  Instead we had a time where people created and presented various forms of art and shared testimonies of God’s recent work in their lives.  I’m not a visual artist, but I do like to play with words, so I wrote this poem after meditating on the lectionary passages for Pentecost. 

Let Your Spirit Fall

Let Your Spirit fall

and thaw our numb-tongued gospel-mute mouths
inspire the elation of proclamation of grace
replace salt-water springs with what living water brings
and sing “Beloved of the Lord!” and “Abba, Father!”
within the depths of souls made whole by your healing touch
speak the unconceivable gospel until we believe enough to
proclaim the news entrusted to us. sustain our submission
to Your mission and give visions of
Your Kingdom coming in suffering glory

Let Your Spirit pour

and cause our eyes to cry streams of baptismal tears
sins and fears washed away in the torrents of Your loving flood
inspire holiness more than this complacence
holiness overflowing this space and holiness
showing this world our hearts melting in obedience to You

Let Your Spirit flame

melt our hearts like wax to be sealed with the sign of the cross
let us not fear loss but be saved through fire when You look
upon this trembling smoking earth. Burn our worship like incense
before heaven’s throne, pleasing to the One alone
who is worthy to be called a consuming fire
and who can set us all aflame

Let Your Spirit breathe

life into these mortal bodies, these cracked clay jars
burnt ashes and scars. Renew the face of the ground,
this dust You found lifeless, restore to life this body
of death. Let Your wind rush into our temples
to turn over our tables with the hurricane force
of Your might, groan Your unutterable prayers
in our deepest layers with sighs too deep for words
and intercede for Your mercy to fall upon us.
with each breath, each heartbeat crying to Jesus
have mercy on us. have mercy on us. have mercy on us.

Let Your Spirit shine

and open our eyes to gleams of the unseen, visions and dreams
from the Spirit of the King whose reign is above all things
inspire sons and daughters to prophesy of all of thy
mighty deeds, all thy healing brings, all the light of the King

Let Your Spirit consecrate

create Church in this space, Your people here in this place have come to see the face of the Father. Show us the Father! Show us the Son! Spirit, show us the Father, the Son, and You O Three in One! Show us the cross where the victory was won! Show us the body and blood of the Son! Show us conversion and new life begun! Show us the grave empty and the light of the sun
                rising on a new day, the true and living way where everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved.


 We’re having another concert at Upper Room tomorrow night: PW Gopal.  PW is an amazingly gifted musician, and we’re lucky to have him playing here.  In addition to his sharing his music with us, he’ll be serving as an artist representative for Not For Sale, raising awareness about human trafficking.  The show is at 8pm at 5828 Forward Ave. in Squirrel Hill, next to PD’s Pub.  If you need more information, send us an email or visit the Facebook event page.

Continuing reading Simon Chan’s Liturgical Theology last night, I was struck by two things, both relevant for today’s place in the liturgical calendar:

(1) Today is Ascension Day, the day when the Church celebrates Christ’s ascension into heaven forty days after the resurrection and ten days before Pentecost (Acts 1).  The Ascension is theologically significant for several reasons: Christ now reigns over all creation, our humanity has ascended into heaven with Christ, Christ now sends the Holy Spirit to the Church.  It has direct implications for worship, too.  Speaking of the liturgy of a worship service as “a journey from this world to the heavenly kingdom and back to this world”, Chan notes that the basis for this view of worship is “the ascension of Christ.”  He continues:

In the eucharistic prayer (the anaphora) the church is raised up to heaven to join in the heavenly liturgy. . . . It is from there that the mission of the church begins; from there that Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to constitute the church as his Spirit-filled body; from there that, after being given spiritual food, the church returns to the world – back in ‘time’ – to love and serve the Lord. (p. 83)  

The anaphora is the portion of a eucharistic liturgy which says, “Lift up your hearts.  We lift them up to the Lord.”  As Christ ascended into heaven, so also the church ascends in its worship and dines at Christ’s table, only to be sent back into the world empowered by the Holy Spirit for mission as at Pentecost.  Celebrate that today.  (And if you want, you can even celebrate with us at Upper Room’s Ascension “Feast” and Worship Service tonight at 5828 Forward in Squirrel Hill.)

(2) With regard to praying the hours, Chan observes that the order of worship in the daily office contains “juxtapositions or sets of dialectic” that likewise call us momentarily out of the world before sending us back into the world. (See pages 80-81 of Chan.) For example, the use of Psalms in most daily prayer liturgies signifies joining in the timeless worship of heaven, while intercessory portions of the liturgies call our attention back to the world in time.  Each pause for an office of daily prayer is a momentary ascension  – setting our “minds on things above” where our “life is not hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:2) – and then a return to the life of the world, sent forth as witnesses to the heavenly Kingdom.

For those who’ve been interested in the handful of posts here referencing the church fathers, check out the blog for the House of St. Michael the Archangel.  The “House” is connected with the Ancient Christian Faith Initiative, started by my friends Matt and Tim.  The House blog will have four to six posts per month drawing inspiration from readings like those we’ve done in the ACFI seminars, so check back to it often.  And (forgive the shameless plug) the first post that’s up today is by yours truly.

Today Upper Room’s steering team was supposed to take a private retreat centered on spiritual disciplines.  The goal is to enrich the prayer lives of our members by spending time in prayer and discussing spiritual disciplines together.  For multiple reasons, the retreat’s been postponed.  But I still want to share some of the thoughts I’d prepared for the retreat.  So here we go . . .

I’ve been learning a lot recently about praying the hours.  Simply put, praying the hours is a way of maintaining a disciplined prayer life by pausing for short liturgical prayers at appointed times throughout the day.  The practice comes from Jewish tradition and has been practiced by Christians since the first century. By the time of Jesus, Jews paused at least three times a day to pray this way.  And you see Jesus-followers in the New Testament praying at the hours:  In the book of Acts, Peter’s praying at the sixth hour when he has his vision of the sheet with unkosher animals (Acts 10:9) and is on his way to prayer when he performs a healing at the ninth hour (Acts 3:10).  While the practice was maintained in more liturgical traditions over the centuries, the practice was lost among Protestants and modern evangelicals.  Thankfully, the practice is now being revived in those circles.

So here are three of the thoughts on praying the hours which I had planned to share with our steering team today:

Praying the hours is an experience of grace.  Those of us coming from low-church and evangelical backgrounds have trouble accepting the grace of pre-written prayers.  Extemporaneous prayer is good.  But truth be told, using written prayers is an experience of grace: the power of one’s prayer life doesn’t depend upon the work we put into struggling to find the words. For me, it’s an experience of freedom to have well-thought out pre-written prayers for use in praying the hours.  They usually say what I want to say better than I could say it on my own.  And with the traditional prayers this comes from the fact that they’ve been used countless times over the centuries.  They’re tried and true.

So a prayer book is appropriate for praying the hours.  My favorite right now is Phyllis Tickle’s compilation called The Divine Hours.  Thanks to Ken Wilson and the Vineyard Church of Ann Arbor, it’s available for free online at each hour of the day at  Ann Arbor Vineyard: The Divine Hours. The print version and the pocket edition have seven offices and is what we’ll eventually give to our steering team members when we do talk about this together.  As a Presbyterian I’ve also used the PC(USA)’s Book of Common Worship Daily Prayer Edition, which has offices for morning, midday, evening, and close of day prayer. 

Praying the hours recalls our attention to God and recenters us.   Psalm 119:164 : “Seven times a day I praise you for your righteous laws.”  Theoretically we can be aware of God’s presence with us at all times of the day.  But in practice, it takes discipline to remind ourselves of that.  So, pausing several times a day at different times functions as a reminder of God’s presence and the fact that God takes precedence over whatever other activity could be going on at that minute.  By pausing at fixed times throughout the day, we also can recall that others are pausing to pray at the same time and experience the grace of our communal existence in the Church. 

One of the interesting things to me about the way The Divine Hours are structured is that there are more “offices” of prayer for the nighttime and early morning than during the day.  Before the comforts of modern society, nighttime was a time of fear.  People were least secure in the night.  And they were also most alone with God during the night.  So after evening prayer, there’s “compline” office (prayed before bed), the midnight office, the office of the night watch (between 1:30 and 4:30am), and the office of the dawn.  It may not seem appealing to wake up multiple times a night to pray, but for those who can’t sleep, these offices can be times of comfort.  Young parents waking to feed babies at all hours of the night can pause and pray the appropriate office for the time of night.  I’ve also found that the night offices are times of comfort and peace when wrestling with insomnia. 

Lastly, praying the hours is a method of sanctifying or hallowing time.  Once in the habit of pausing at certain times to pray the hours, it’s interesting to think of major biblical events that happened at particular times of the day: at noon on Good Friday, Jesus was nailed to the cross.  At 3:00pm he breathed his last.  It was 9:00am when the Spirit fell upon the apostles at Pentecost.   But we can go further than that:  It was also noon when Jesus sat down at the Jacob’s well where he met and talked to the Samaritan woman (John 4:6), and three in the afternoon when Cornelius had his vision telling him to send for Peter (Acts 10:3).  Once we get in the habit of noticing these times of biblical events, the order of our day and the prayers we pray can be shaped by them.  For example, at 9:00 in the morning praying to be filled with the Holy Spirit.  At noon or 3:00pm, pray for God to let you meet someone from a different culture (as Jesus with the Samaritan woman and Peter with Cornelius).  With practice, this becomes a way of living into the story of scripture.