Prayer and scripture

Last week I participated (virtually) in the ordination of three new priests at St. Mark’s Cathedral in Seattle. As I sat in my comfortable chair and peered at my laptop screen, I was reminded of my own ordination 26 years ago in an old stone church in Kansas. In the Examination, Bishop Smalley asked me, “Will you be diligent in the reading and study of the Holy Scriptures… and will you persevere in prayer, asking God’s grace, both for yourself and for others?

The Prayer Book is wise to ask those questions of the candidate. Our tradition values them as foundations of the spiritual life. Without a life of scripture and prayer, a clergy person can lose their anchor and drift away.

I began saying daily Morning Prayer from the Prayer Book in seminary. It was expected, but not required, for all seminarians to attend Morning Prayer, and nearly everybody did. It began a lifelong routine for me.

Of course anything done daily can turn into empty rote, and there have been times when Morning Prayer was just a chore to be accomplished. But after 29 years of Morning Prayer, I see that it has shaped me and changed me. You might say it has created a cathedral of prayer within me in which God is present. Sometimes parts of the cathedral crumble or burn, like Notre Dame, and have to be rebuilt.

Likewise, I’ve spent more time in the Bible than I anticipated. In addition to the weekly concentration required for preaching, I’ve taught our Vicar’s Bible study every week for my thirteen years at St. Antony’s. I’ve pawed through my old seminary notes, read commentaries, pulled articles from the internet, and presented a sheet of notes for the class every week. Our small group of four to six has clustered around the table, poking and prodding and pondering the scriptures. As they say, “The teacher learns the most,” and that’s been true for me. I’ve come to feel at home in the odd stories of the scriptures, and found my own perspective on them.

I’m sure there are other ways I could have spent my time as a priest, and I know every clergy person chooses differently. But for me it’s provided a firm foundation for my life as a priest.