I spent last week in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan at the Lutheran Theological Seminary. Without going into too many details just yet about how this all fits into some of my next steps, I wanted to share with you a piece of evening prayer our little community offered together.
Coming from and evangelical background, I’m used to picking songs “as the Spirit leads” (not a wrong style; only a different one). I’m used to repeating songs as musicians, singers, and the people are all led; I’m used to contemporary styles; and I’m used to adding a song on the fly depending on how the Spirit moves within us.
The Lutherans are a different breed. 😀
The liturgy is as fulfilling to me as it is frustrating. I miss being able to stand, sit, kneel or raise my hands as I’m led; but I’m also in awe at the chants offered from the people all at a specific time. I miss the clapping (sometimes 😉 ) ; but I’m also moved to stillness in the silence of arched chapels, and in the echoes of melodies.
Marty Haugen’s “Holden Evening Prayer” offers Psalm 141 from the Psalter. It’s one of the most profound pieces of holy sung word I think I’ve ever heard. Strange that the person sitting next to me wasn’t as big of a fan. He’d sung Holden Evening Prayer backwards and forwards many times, so perhaps some of the glamour had worn off for him. Maybe he felt about Hold Evening Prayer the way I feel about “Shine, Jesus, Shine” or “Pass It On”.
For me, I was broken apart.
I could smell incense: cinnamon, cloves, sweetgrass, and aromatic cedar mixed with olive oil. Why those particular smells, I can’t say but as we called back and forth, weaving our voices in chant and descant, the plea became tangible. Simple cries became fragrant smoke.
I can’t say what my fellow singers were thinking or feeling, other than the one comment. For me, a whole world I never knew existed opened up. I inhaled deeply and long.
I wish I could share with you all a professional recording of this piece, but it’s either hiding under some really big ‘net rock, or it just doesn’t exist. So here’s an amateur version. The voices are just as beautiful, but I beg your indulgence with the dancers. I have nothing against dance in church, but let’s just say it’s not my favourite form of worship. Maybe I’ve been to too many evangelical services when scarves and excessively flow-y pieces of material were waved all over the place for no apparent reason (and the snob in me arises).
In any case, I don’t think I could find a more suitable prayer for this reluctant mystic. I want to embrace God; and there are moments when I know it’s impossible for God to exist. I want to embrace this Jesus I’ve come to love; and there are moments when my practical, logical brain simply won’t have it. I want to sense the undercurrents of Spirit as she breathes in and out of me; but some days I simply can’t believe.
And so the prayer bubbles up — rises up as smoke — as intangible as my own doubts, vanishing into the vaults of the cathedral. Were they heard?
Perhaps. I can’t say for sure.
All I can do is breathe.
Let my prayer rise up like incense before you, the lifting up of my hands as an offering to you.
O God, I call to you, come to me now;
O hear my voice when I cry to you.
Keep watch within me, God;
deep in my heart may the light of your love be burning bright.
All praise to the God of all, Creator of Life.
All praise be to Christ and the Spirit of love.