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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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'Praying the liturgy'

I always thought I understood what it meant to “pray the liturgy.” I had taught the concept to my students and had planned and led innumerable varieties of simple to extravagant forms. But my certainty changed last fall when I was staying as a guest in a retreat house at St. John’s University, Collegeville, Minn, and the tornado siren went off at 1:30 a.m.

I could see other participants turning on their lights, unsure of what to do or where to go. There was no sign of storm, but was there some other imminent danger? The security-desk phone was jammed with callers, and it was quite a while before we heard the news that the siren was the result of a computer malfunction and that we could return to bed.

As I lay in bed, unable to go back to sleep, I wondered how we would all get up for 7 a.m. prayer. The local community gathered for prayer five times each day, as Benedictine communities have for centuries. Would they ever cancel it, I wondered?

We all arrived, as usual, and sang and read the morning psalms, hymns and prayers. There couldn’t have been anyone there who wasn’t weary from theinterrupted night. Yet the prayer went on in its usual beautiful simplicity. Praying that morning happened in spite of our weariness.

The simple liturgy prayed its way right through tired congregants. It was a prayer that we joined, rather than created, and it was never as evident to me as that morning when the prayer and song appeared before our weary bodies and minds. The liturgy prayed us that morning. Perhaps it often does, if we but notice.

My faith deepened that day as I experienced the truth that even our meager efforts aren’t necessary. The liturgy continues in us and around us. Sometimes we can only show up.


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