Subway Prophet

…and the words of the prophets were written on the subway walls…

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Morning Prayer, Monotony, and the Joys of Advent

LJW does his Morning Prayer.

LJW does his Morning Prayer.

One of the most significant parts of life in Cranmer Hall and the Wesley Study Centre is the regular pattern of prayer. At Duke I was an infrequent attendee of Morning Prayer. It was not because I do not love beginning my day with prayer and Scripture; it is just that I prefer to begin my days with a few more minutes of snooze-button enabled sleep.

Because Cranmer is primarily here to train Anglican students for ministry, Morning Prayer is a requirement for their students. Methodists (much to Wesley’s post-mordem disappointment) are not required to attend every day, however it is strongly encouraged. Because I am living in college and breakfast is only served before prayers, my motivation to get out of bed is significantly higher. As such it has become a much more significant aspect of my daily life.

This means that the lectionary readings for the daily office have made the pattern of the liturgical seasons all the more prominent. For most of the daily services we use the Church of England’s Common Worship. During Ordinary Time, it has different services for each day of the week. Each service provides enough similarity to provide continuity throughout the week, while also having enough change to keep things from becoming monotonous. However, After All Saints Day, the service changed. Gone were the variety and in came one liturgy for the entire month before Advent. Even though many of the students who led the prayers tried to add in various things to mix up the service, by last week I was awaiting Advent not for the emphasis on Jesus as the Light into the darkness, but just so that I could turn to a different page each day!

Therefore on Monday with words like, “…the dawn from on high is breaking upon us to dispel the lingering shadows of night…” ordinary time was over and the preparation for Christmas had begun! As I thought about it, I realized that this is the point of Advent. In the midst of the normal routines of life, the season of Advent breaks in all around us both with explosions of garland and bright colored lights, as well as the reminder that so many years ago, God broke into the normalness of the world in the person of Jesus, illuminating a world filled with darkness and reconciling all of humanity within himself.

Now that is something we can celebrate!

LJW celebrates Advent at Sacriston Methodist Church

LJW celebrates Advent at Sacriston Methodist Church

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Reflections on an Ash Wednesday

““Beware of practicing your pie before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven. So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” (Matthew 6:1–6 NRSV)

One of the most frustrating days for me is Ash Wednesday. Lent is my favorite season of the Church calendar, so it always frustrates me when people make the practices all about them. “I will give up chocolate so that I will lose weight” or  “I will give up Facebook so that I look like I am truly sacrificing when really I just want to be more productive.” Of course these decisions are not made in secret, but instead are the result of a large scale, trumpet worthy, deliberation (More on that later).  For this reason, I usually do not give up anything and instead add something to my daily routine avoiding the many questions.

Today I was particularly attuned to the trappings of Ash Wednesday. When I went to class this morning my eyes were peeled for black smudges. Everyone I met got searched for their mark. Had they been to the early morning service?  Did they have that holier-than-thou look? Still being undecided on my precise Lenten practice, I formulated my answer for the inevitable questions. This continued during the Divinity school’s Ash Wednesday/Eucharist service as I watched as everyone went up to the station, pious heads bowed, and heard that they were worthless—dust.

When it was my turn, I went, bowed my head in reverence and preparation, and while being marked with ash, heard the words: “You are dust, and to dust you will return.” As I walked back to my seat I saw on the foreheads of everyone around me the same black mark I had just received. In that moment, instead of judgment I felt a connection with those around me. They were all marked as well-fellow sinners!  We were all repenting and preparing together.  As I sat down I realized how in my righteous judgment of so many people’s piety I had individualized this day just like everyone else. It seemed a so obvious, yet so easily forgotten fact. Nothing we do in life is done alone. Fasting, prayer, supplication need to be done in your “prayer closet,” but also in community. If anyone is going to stay on the wagon of repentance, we are going to need each other for accountability and support.

For the rest of the day, as I spotted more and more people’s ashen foreheads I thanked God that they were there with me. We bore our crosses together. And I hoped that they, and all of you will help me keep my Lenten (and life) attempt to give up judgment and self-righteousness.