While I sat at our small kitchen table with the Celebrating Common Prayer open alongside Lancelot Andrew’s Private Prayers I did not immediately realize that I was participating in something that stretched back to traditions rooted in the Israel’s prayer practices. I’ve been taught, and discipled, to not privilege tradition but theology. I remember being stunned, at William Temple’s suggestion, that all faith and theological teaching stemmed from Christ’s historic teaching from the real tangible boats, mountain tops, and valleys. When I told an old friend he subtly chided me, “Bryan—while I agree—don’t you think that we have a more immediate connection to Christ through His Holy Spirit which is now at work within us and the church bringing us into all truth?” I agreed. He was right—the historic should never be privileged over the spiritual and theological. That, as it seems, leads to the person destroying traditionalism toted around by the Pharisees of Jesus’ own day. Still, when the historic and the spiritual kiss, or at least shake hands—there, I now confidently think, is reason for rejoicing. I don’t think my slow change of perspective has come about because of my own desire to be faddish, or to be cool amidst Regent student’s championing of things ancient and sacramental. No, my embrace of the historic—while certainly informed by my time here at Regent—is rooted in my realizing that God operates in time. As Christ’s hands bear the marks of the cross, so history bears the marks of the Holy Spirit engaging with the great mess we make, working for its redemption. History, in one way or another contains the spiritual—even now. To deny history and the traditions our fathers and mothers give us is to deny how the Holy Spirit has worked in our past—this as it seems is far from gracious.
So I read through Celebrating Common Prayer and Andrew’s Private Prayers with a growing sense that I was surrounded by a “great cloud of witnesses.” My faith, I came to see, wasn’t my own thing. It was God’s thing and because it was God’s it was also the church’s, and because it was the church’s it was historical. And because, in the end, faith wasn’t about me—it wasn’t my thing—I came to experience relief. I didn’t have to forge ahead by my own self-will and spontaneity alone. In this way the prayers I read were like verbal grace—they were not something I did but something I participated in and received.
I read that the offices, though formally implemented with Benedict, were inspired by John Cassian, who was in turn inspired by desert monks, who in turn were inspired by the Psalms. History, I came to see, is like a great scroll that only stops unrolling at the words, “In the beginning God created […].”