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Read an Excerpt
Common Prayer Pocket Edition
By Shane Claiborne Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove
ZONDERVANCopyright © 2012 The Simple Way and School for Conversion
All right reserved.
IntroductionThere are so many divisions within Christianity. By one count, there are more than thirty-eight thousand Christian denominations. Many people have said that the greatest barrier to becoming a Christian is all the division they see in the church.
God's deepest longing is for the church to be united as one body. In Jesus' longest recorded prayer, he prayed that we would be "one as God is one." As one old preacher said, "We gotta get it together, because Jesus is coming back, and he's coming for a bride, not a harem."
God has only one church.
This prayer book is the result of a collaboration of people from many different branches of Christianity, all of which come from one trunk&mash;if you trace the branches all the way back.
Folks are bound to ask if this prayer book is for Catholics or for Protestants. Our answer is, "Yes, it is." We want the fire of the Pentecostals, the imagination of the Mennonites, the Lutherans' love of Scripture, the Benedictines' discipline, the wonder of the Catholics and the Orthodox. We've drawn on some of the oldest and richest traditions of Christian prayer. And we've tried to make them dance.
Our prayer lives connect us to the rest of the body of Christ around the world; at any hour of any day, many of the prayers in this book are being prayed in some corner of the earth. Using these prayers is also a way of connecting ourselves to the past; we're talking about the greatest hits not just from the 1960s, '70s, and '80s but from the 1800s and the 300s. Some of these prayers are more than a thousand years old.
A Word about Liturgy
Liturgy comes from the Greek word leitourgia, meaning "public worship." When we hear the phrase public worship, many of us think of large meetings, like Sunday morning services, and while public worship can mean that, it doesn't have to take place in a big group. After all, public shares the same root word as pub, and it really just refers to a gathering of people to share life (and maybe a drink), a get-together that's always open to strangers joining in. Jesus promised that wherever two or three gather in his name, he'll be there with us. Jesus will be with us at the "pub," whether there's wine or not.
When we first experience the organized cycle of readings that is a part of liturgical worship&mash;a lectionary, as it's often called&mash;it can seem like magic or a conspiracy. We may hear a pastor preach from the same text we read in morning prayer and think, "How in the world? The Spirit must be moving!" And, in fact, the Spirit is moving, just in a more organized way than we would have guessed. Some liturgical types smile when evangelicals discover the "miracle" of the liturgy. But it is a miracle nonetheless. So lean in and listen as you pray these prayers. Sometimes it may feel like you can hear the church's heart beat as you pray in a way you never have before.
The readings of the church are arranged in a three-year cycle so that we hear the entire biblical story&mash;creation and fall, the exodus, captivity and return, the promise and advent of the Messiah, the coming of the Holy Spirit, and the promise of the coming kingdom. This cycle is used all over the world, so that on the same day, Christians in Africa are reading the same texts as Christians in Latin America. Since Common Prayer is designed to be used year after year, we have done our best to honor this cycle, though we've squeezed it into one year.
Participating in the liturgy of the worldwide Christian community, whether on a Sunday morning or at another time, is more than attending a service or a prayer meeting. It is about entering a story. It is about orienting our lives around what God has been doing throughout history. And it is about being sent forth into the world to help write the next chapter of that story.
Liturgy offers us an invitation not just to observe but to participate&mash;active prayer, active worship. "Peace be with you" invites us to respond, "And also with you." When we hear "God is good," we want to call back, "All the time." It is a dialogue, a divine drama in which we are the actors. We become a part of God's story. We sing God's songs. We discover lost ancestors. And their story becomes our story.
Welcome to a Whole New World
Liturgy invites us to see the reality of the universe through a new lens. It helps us to see ourselves as part of a holy counterculture, a people being "set apart" from the world around us (and the world inside us) to bear witness that another world is possible. We're invited to become a peculiar people, living into a different story and orienting our lives around a different set of values than those we are taught by the empires and markets around us. In an individualistic culture, liturgy helps us live a communal life. In an everchanging world, liturgy roots us in the eternal&mash;a God who is the same yesterday and today and tomorrow, no matter what happens on Wall Street.
Liturgy's counterintuitive nature may feel a little strange at first. It is weird enough in our culture just to get together to sing songs (unless you are going to a concert or playing Rock Band on the Wii). Singing and praying together can feel awkward, especially if it is not Thanksgiving or Christmas. But liturgy is meant to be an interruption. It disrupts our reality and refocuses it on God. It reshapes our perceptions and lives with new rhythms, new holy days, a whole new story.
What we discover is not just a poetic genius behind the words but a community in, with, and under the words. Just as people of the world pledge allegiance to flags or sing national anthems with pride and adoration, these creeds, songs, and prayers are ways that we proclaim our allegiance and sing our adoration not to a nation but to another kingdom altogether. That may sound a little esoteric or ethereal, like heaven is less real than the stuff of earth. But liturgy actually draws us out of the world of counterfeit power and splendor and into something more real. As we pray, the world of billboards and neon signs and false promises becomes ghostlike. We are invited into an ancient and eternal place and time that transcends all that is around us.
Welcome to a New Time Zone
Every sturdy society has created its own calendar according to its own values. For some time now, Western civilization has used the Julian and Gregorian calendars, which are influenced largely by the Roman Empire's traditions. The United States' civil religion uses this calendar, mixing in its own set of holy days, most notably its date of inception (the Fourth of July) and its remembrances of human sacrifice (Memorial Day and Veterans Day). Consumer culture always threatens to monopolize the feast days on which the church remembers saints like Nicholas, Valentine, and Patrick, turning them into little more than days to buy stuff in the name of cultural idols such as Santa, the Easter bunny, and green leprechauns. Too often we have forgotten the lives of the people for whom these days are named.
But if we are going to take our citizenship in heaven seriously, we must mark our calendars differently. We must observe the holidays of the biblical narrative rather than the festivals of the Caesars, and celebrate feast days that remember saints rather than war heroes and presidents. And instead of commemorating people who sacrificed themselves in order to kill for their country, we find a deeper and more powerful observance on Good Friday, when we remember that Jesus willingly died for everyone in the world, even his enemies, instead of killing them to "change the world."
We enter a new time zone, where it can feel like there is a "cloud of witnesses" surrounding us, praying for us, cheering us on from eternity. It should feel like we are singing "Holy, Holy, Holy" with all of the people of God who have come before us. The past becomes bigger than our personal pasts. God's story becomes the lens through which we understand the present. And the future is no longer held hostage. We know how the story ends, and it is beautiful. This is the good news that transcends the nightly news.
The worldwide church has its holy days, such as the Presentation, the Annunciation, the Visitation, and the Transfiguration. These are our holidays. It is not that we need a "Christian" calendar because we want to separate ourselves from the "secular" world. The point is to keep God's story at the center of our lives. We also have our own hall of fame. There are days when we highlight women and men throughout church history (often on the days they died). These people are exemplary models of Christian discipleship from around the world and across the centuries, and they're just really fascinating people who have lived well. It is our hope that their lives and courage will inspire us, and rub off on us, as they point us to Christ. In their imperfect but beautiful lives, we can see our own potential.
The daily cycle of prayer&mash;morning, midday, evening, and compline&mash;is like a heartbeat for the global church, passing from one time zone to the next each day, so that we as a people can, as the apostle Paul taught us, pray without ceasing. But this daily rhythm is but a "wheel within a wheel" of the weekly cycle, which begins on Sunday (Resurrection Day), remembers Jesus' gathering the twelve disciples on Thursday, suffers with Christ symbolically on Friday, and prepares on Saturday for the great feast after the resurrection. And then we do it all again, and again.
But the weekly cycle also happens within an annual rhythm of seasons&mash;Advent to prepare for Christ's coming, Christmas to celebrate the Prince of Peace, Epiphany to remember the Light, Lent to confess our resistance to the Light, Holy Week to remember Christ's suffering, Easter to celebrate the resurrection's power, the birthday of the church at Pentecost, and Ordinary Time to bring us back to the beginning again.
The church calendar does not help us remember our appointments, but it helps us remember who we are. It aims at nothing less than changing the way we experience time and perceive reality. It is about the movement of history toward a glorious goal&mash;God's kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.
Why Common Prayer?
No doubt, we can pray to God by ourselves; for centuries both monks and evangelicals (and lots of people in between) have prayed solitarily. There is something beautiful about a God who is personal, who talks face to face with Moses, wrestles with Jacob, and becomes fully human in Jesus, a God who needs no mediation, with whom we can speak as a Friend and Lover at any moment and in any place, in a cathedral or an alleyway.
The point of this book is certainly not to take away from the intimacy each of us can have with God. Personal or devotional prayer and communal prayer are not at odds with each other. In fact, they must go together. Just as God is communal, God is also deeply personal and intimate.
Certainly one of the unique and beautiful things about Jesus is his intimacy with God as he runs off to the mountaintop or hides away in the garden. Jesus daringly invites us to approach the God of the universe as Abba (Daddy) or as a mother caring for her little chicks. Our God is personal and wildly in love with each of us.
But just because our prayer lives are personal does not mean they are private. Many of us have grown up in a culture where rampant individualism has affected our prayer lives. When we think about prayer, our imaginations may be limited to evening devotions or a daily "quiet time" with God. As wonderful as these times of solitude can be, prayer moves us beyond what we can do on our own.
The gift of liturgy is that it helps us hear less of our own little voices and more of God's still, small voice (Psalm 46). It leads us away from self and points us toward the community of God. God is a plurality of oneness. God has "lived in community" from eternity as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. God as Trinity is the core reality of the universe, and that means that the core of reality is community. We often live as if the essence of our being is the "I," and as if the "we" of community is a nice add-on or an "intentional" choice. But the truth is we are made for community &mash;we are made in the image of community&mash;and if we live outside of community, we are selling ourselves short.
What about When You're Not Feeling It?
Common Prayer isn't so much an inspirational text as it is a workout guide. Though it can be a little easier to exercise with others, jogging alone is still good for the body, and so is praying alone.
Liturgy is active. It takes patience (one part of the fruit of the Spirit, by the way). And patience is very countercultural. Sometimes we don't feel like working out our bodies, but after the first few steps, we start to breathe, and we can feel our heartbeat, which had grown quiet and lethargic. Liturgy is not simply about watching or listening; it's about participating. You can sit back with a bowl of popcorn and watch all the exercise videos you want, but nothing will happen until you get off the couch and start sweatin' to the oldies.
In many ways, the "official" liturgy can't work for each of us if we're not doing things to stay in shape outside of the fixed hours for prayer. Study, discipleship, works of mercy, and contemplation are the homework assignments that prepare us for the experience of worship and prayer together. Otherwise, it's like going on a jog every day but only eating junk and staring at a television the rest of the time. If we don't spend time listening for God during the day, liturgy can feel like we are being invited to laugh at a joke we haven't even heard yet. How can you enjoy the romance unless you have spent some time falling in love? If Common Prayer doesn't work for you right away, hang in there and give the divine romance a chance.
But also, a disclaimer: the liturgy is not a magic formula. You can have liturgy without life in it, just as you can have a nice-looking car that doesn't run. Some of the dreariest services on the planet are rich with liturgy and traditions. Liturgy is one of the most powerful places to meet and be transformed by God. It is also one of the best places to hide&mash;from God and from others. So may it be a doorway into deeper relationship with God and with others. If it's not, may you keep knocking until you find a door that opens.
How to Use This Book
This book provides four daily prayers, or daily offices&mash;morning, midday, evening, and compline&mash;for use at different times during the day.
As is the case with most prayer books, the offices are designed to have one person lead. Feel free to rotate who that person is, but it is usually helpful to have one person get things rolling. Prayers in normal type are to be said by the leader; prayers in bold type can be said by everyone together. Words in italic type are headings or instructions and are not meant to be read aloud. Also, a colon with a space before and after it ( : ) indicates a pause. Here's a visual key for future reference:
Normal type = to be read by single voice/leader Bold type = to be read by community Italic type = instructions/headings, not to be read A colon ( : ) = pause
The morning office is designed to be prayed as you wake up and greet the day. You should be able to pray it in about a half hour. The morning office invites participation through responsorial prayer, Scripture readings, and songs to sing if you are praying with others. If you are by yourself, we hope you'll hear the echoes of others' voices and remember you are not alone.
You will need to use two other sections of the book in conjunction with the morning office: the "Table of Scripture Readings and Special Days," and the "Annotated List of Special Days."
The "Table of Scripture Readings and Special Days" lists the daily readings from the Psalms and the Old and New Testaments. Selecting the readings was a little tricky, since the traditional liturgy of the church follows a three-year cycle. We've done our best to honor this cycle with selected readings. We've also tried to honor the cycle of readings from the book of Psalms. Each month, we move through the sequence of the one hundred and fifty psalms, skipping quite a few, of course, but reading at least a little bit of every psalm by the time we end the year. The Old and New Testament readings for each day also move consecutively through biblical books, with the occasional interruption for a holiday with a fixed date.
In addition to the readings, the table also lists special days commemorating an event or a saint. In the "Annotated List of Special Days" section, you'll find information about these days.
Excerpted from Common Prayer Pocket Edition by Shane Claiborne Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove Copyright © 2012 by The Simple Way and School for Conversion. Excerpted by permission of ZONDERVAN. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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