In this guest blog post, 2015-16 Resident Member Rachael Lopez looks back on her experience of prayer in the Community of St Anselm. This article was first published in The Melbourne Anglican, June 2016, under the title ‘Old and new church ways can coexist’.
The rhythm of daily Morning Prayer, Eucharist and Evening Prayer in the Community of St Anselm was unlike any pattern of life I was familiar with. I could not comprehend what three services a day would be like. After 8 months of this change of lifestyle, here are a few things I’ve learned.
Most of my Christian life has been spent in a quiet-time culture, feeling that my relationship with God is based on the quality of my time of Bible reading and prayer. A conference or a book on prayer invigorated me, and I would pledge again to start my day with Bible reading and prayer… but that pledge usually lasted as long as my New Year’s resolutions. While I definitely believe individual time with God is essential, I have discovered that communal prayer is particularly helpful. Being able to join in together with something rather than generate something (this is especially helpful before I am sufficiently caffeinated in the morning) has taken the pressure off being a superstar at prayer. There is a groundedness to my existence now and it is prayer. This new rhythm has taught me that sometimes it’s just about showing up and being faithful – and this commitment yields fruit over time.
Going to a Eucharist service every day is an experience of living in reconciliation. In both marriage and living in a community, it’s hard for conflict to fester when you know you are going to greet each other with the sign of peace at midday! But also, confessing to God on a daily basis has given me a renewed outlook. I am receiving God’s mercy in such a profound way each day; it should compel me to extend that to others. And even as I continue to fail in sin and showing mercy, each day I am reminded that God wipes the slate clean.
Connection to History
Morning Prayer begins by remembering an often obscure Saint, martyr or figure of great faith – I am a part of the eternal body of Christ; past, present and future. I feel this kinship through the ages from the dawn of my day, and it puts life into perspective. I am reminded of those throughout history who have suffered for Christ but I also hear of God working through ordinary people. Young adults are probably the most likely to be guilty of what C.S. Lewis calls chronological snobbery. John Piper reflects on this; ‘newness is no virtue and oldness is no vice… Truth and beauty and goodness are not determined by when they exist.’ When interwoven with our rhythm of the monastic daily offices, these stories and prayers that have trickled down through generations, offer me a truly tangible connection with the past.
Old and new can be beautiful together
When I studied photography, I loved using both old and new processes. I made digital negatives from film stills and created cyanotypes, a chemical process discovered in the 1840’s. The pieces needed a few hours of direct sunlight, so I spent several days in the middle of winter walking around Melbourne chasing the sun. I was inspired by Lewis Hyde, who wrote: ‘A live tradition extends in both directions in time’. While he was referring to artists, I believe it applies to the church as well.
Stand at the crossroads, and look,
and ask for the ancient paths,
where the good way lies; and walk in it,
and find rest for your souls. Jeremiah 6:16
Netivot’olam is the Hebrew expression for both the ‘Ancient Path’ and ‘Perpetual Path’ revealing a faith that goes back into the past, yet stretches far into the future. In my time with the Community of St Anselm, I have discovered it is possible to have a genuine love of prayers and songs in all their forms – old and new, liturgical and spontaneous. I have seen this work together beautifully.
To find out more about the life of the Community, Community Membership, or to apply for Residential or Non-Residential Membership this year, visit http://stanselm.org.uk/about/membership/
All photos courtesy of Lambeth Palace