English-language Buddhist liturgy handbook for the asking

I just rediscovered a copy of the 1992 Daily Service, published by the Jodo Shinshu Buddhist Churches of America. Back pre-Web, I used to collect small liturgical works like this, but I think it would be better if it was in the hands of someone who would actually use it. (I think I got it when I was in San Francisco, on a long road strip — a.k.a. the Unitariad — after the 1993 Spokane General Assembly.)

In English, with chants printed phonetically, with suggestions for arranging a butsudan (family shrine).

Just ask; for anyone with a United States postal address. Claimed.

On Chutney's morning prayer, part 4

Though I have plenty to say on morning (and evening) prayer, I think this is going to be my last word on it for the time being. These thoughts ostensibly are to help Chutney make some choices to help him compose a service. (Though I’m not sure if that is a single meta-service or several more proper/particular ones.)

If I had to have one piece of advice left, I’d  say be sure it isn’t too precious or theoretically uniform. For most of the last forty years it has been quite fashionable for professional liturgists to dictate that worship has some immutable theological thrust to which its practice must conform. The results tend to be more often than necessary wordy, pale, stilted, and unsettling. There’s lots of evidence that liturgists have profound egos. My shelves are full of the stuff (which makes its elimination that much easier.)
Like quaint neighborhoods near “urban renewal” zones, Unitarian Universalists, having such a small corps of professional liturgists and little access to others, has largely been spared. I suppose we get het up on the Great God Community. Some of the new texts sound like something UNESCO would gush, but good liturgics would flush these out. Most of the people who would scold me for praying “Our Father . . . ” wouldn’t say it if the gender was changed or neutralized anyway.

So all in all, I think we’re in pretty good stead for making worship an occasionally messy (on paper) compote with odd little rationales and understandings, while becoming aware that it needs — to use that theater term — good production values.

Past reformers often miss this point, valuing purity and underappreciating method, but the people in the pews instinctively get it.

Last word. If you would like some really rich reading on the history of daily prayer, read George Guiver’s Company of Voices: Daily Prayer and the People of God (2001).

A prayer born every minute

Before I forget again.

Hubby and I were shopping for chairs (again) last weekend. We took a break at a Borders, and I saw One Nation Under God: The History of Prayer in America. As usual, I flipped to see what it said about the Universalists and Unitarians. Quite a bit really. I noted that late in life P. T. Barnum prayed from a Universalist devotional Manna, which I believe was written by John Coleman Adams. “I think,” because my copy is in a Hollinger box somewhere.

The format is simple and still used: a biblical passage with a sermonette for each day of the year. Adams had an concern for comforting the sick and greiving, so (not having prayed from Manna) I have to think its core is comfort.

Following the “Chutney’s morning prayer” thread, such a book can be used in public worship as the two readings, even though historically a non-biblical reading is more customary for evening services. Something to reflect on in the night hours. A little morning liturgy — which tend to be stimulating; here, say, for a retreat — might go:

  • Liturgical greeting (“The Lord be with you . . .”)
  • Collect for purity
  • First reading
  • Psalm 95 (a traditional ordinary morning psalm)
  • Second reading (“sermonette”)
  • Open prayer
  • Lord’s Prayer (unison)
  • Collect for grace
  • Prayer of St. John Chrysostom
  • Blessing or dismissal

On Chutney's morning prayer, part 2

Every once in a while, you get a Unitarian Universalist who says — in so many words — we’re not Christian and never were, so why do we insist on doing X like the Christians. (The letters to the UUWorld sometimes go there.) But what we were (and some still are) conditions the process (if not the content) of what we have today. OK, nothing new said there. Which is my point . . . .
It may be unfashionable to say so — Americans would usually like to make something new than recover the old — but a Unitarian Universalist seriously considering the offices of daily prayer, including morning prayer, has to look both to how Unitarians and Universalists approached the matter, and how the people they drew on approached it.

At this point, I supposed to say how we have Puritan roots and there’s something distinctly New England about how we do our worship and so forth. But a lot of what got filtered through the more refined churches of the late nineteenth century was a better sense of the aesthetic, with briefer sermons, choral music, and pre-composed prayers. Colonial Meetinghouse fell to Gothic Revival, or met halfway, at least. A lot of denominations went through this, and the Episcopalians (among a small set of others) were cast in an admirable light. Which is one reason I refer to them a lot. But this is somewhat obscured because Episcopalians on the whole don’t worship they way they once did. Good ol’ low church Episcopalianism — with Morning Prayer as the default service and ministers dressed more or less like I am in my blog photo — is almost dead. The parish Eucharist and vestments from antiquity have become so common that we’d hardly know there is an alternative. But Morning Prayer was once popular in part because it was easy to learn and participate in, and worked with people of differing theological commitments. It was praise and hearing and prayer, and most commonly learning through a nourishing address tacked to the end, incircled in its own sequence of singing and blessing. The framework is familiar, and is seen — however modified — in many Unitarian Universalist churches today. It is a robust frame; to my mind, a good service of morning prayer should likewise accordion down to a person’s private if complex prayer, or up to the main service of a Sunday congregation of thousands. So a respectible order for morning prayer can be cast as a series of elements as headings. Just a thought.

After saying all that, and following up on what I wrote last time, someone composing a liturgy for both local and “elsewhere” use needs to think about its customs. Who stands where, who walks where, how are candles lit and not lit — which options for the physical “performance” are use and which aren’t. That says a lot about what’s accepted or rejected; perhaps more than the theological content. Take notes at a service you like and “works” and you’ll know instinctively that the customary is important and what it can involve.

Now, a word on what is ordinary and what is proper.

Ordinary elements — in rite (words) or custom (actions and physical resource choices) — occur at every service or nearly so. Standing at the hymns, the unison recitation of a particularly-worded covenant, the closely-enunciated exhortation-as-greeting when the chalice is lighted (in its own particular way), the bright singing of “Go now in peace” when the church scholars leave, the unpretensious reception of the offering with two church members with wicker baskets — these are ordinary to several real-live Unitarian Universalist congregations I’ve seen. They get inside of you and allow you to participate in all the weather of the human condition, and you change them at someone’s peril.

Proper elements change from service to service, often keyed to an occasion or schedule like a lectionary. They provide variety, interest, color, and focus. Hymns and readings are proper. The choice of prayers is proper. Some liturgies are themselves proper to an occasion, like the customary Ash Wednesday and Good Friday liturgies.

OK, this posting is a mess but I’d better publish it or I’ll never stop. Have at it.

On Chutney's morning prayer, part 1

Chutney need not have worried that I was going to judge his morning prayer proposal on theological grounds: I’ve read his blog long enough to know where he’s coming from and I’d fain worry if he did propose a Christian liturgy.

And little wonder, too, since cyclic personal and corporate prayer is the property of no single religion. The sun rises and falls on us all.

I am, however, worried about the construction of his rite, and I’ll spell this out in some detail in the next few posts. Composing liturgy is a tricky thing because each rite — new and old — has a subtext that can only be spelled out in part, even with the most comprehensive of rubrics (directions). So much the better, too, since the inherent variety reflects the custom of a people, the physical makup of a space and other considerations. The Christian Scientists suffer in their shockingly directive form of worship and is so now mummified. More about the custom of worship later.

I also have some deep concerns about the intellectual property Chutney uses in his rite. The 1894 Universalist rite is obviously in the public domain, but (less obviously) was derived from the 1892 Episcopalian rite, which was contemporaneously released in the public domain. (All United States Episcopal Church English prayer books — but not all service books — were and are. I wrote about this before.) Chutney’s rite, on the other hand, is a festival of copyright, and I dare not ask if he got clearances before publishing his trial run. Apart from the moral, legal and logistical problems of copyright clearances, there is the pastoral problem of someone owning the foundational language of the church. I’ve written about this before, too. A hymn here or there won’t matter much, since these are meant to be rotated in and out. Denominational sources have the good sense (usually) to keep copyrighted liturgies open in some kind of congregational use license, which mitigates some of my concerns. Sermons, I think but am willing to be challenged on, are a different beast since they are the words of one speaking to the church rather than being the public voice from the church.

That’ll do for now. Next come my ordinary and proper concerns.

Universalist daily prayer asked for

A reader — I love y’all; keep those cards and letters coming — asked

Question: what prayer books, if any, do you recommend for daily use?

The only one I know of is the Anglican/Episcopal Book of Common Prayer. Are there others?

Universalists had a liturgical movement, sparked originally (I believe) by convert from the Episcopalians Menzies Rayner, cresting in the late Victorian period, and lasting to about the First World War. There was a later non-Christian liturgical flowering, and in recent years the older Universalist liturgies have come back to light. I’m happy to help this move forward.

First, be sure to follow the “daily prayer” category link below. This will pull up earlier articles. Goodness: Universalists had a beaucoup of liturgies, and I’ve just scratched my study of liturgical resources for children. (These tend to be more ephemeral.)

But, second, my favorite all-purpose liturgy is the 1894 Book of Prayer. It seems to take the then-new 1892 Episcopal prayer book as its base, but as one colleague (who uses it) noted to me, it has a certain humble and gentle bend in these places where it differs.

This colleague is the Rev. W. Scott Axford, of the First Universalist Church, Providence, and does he have a full schedule for the Tridiuum! (He’s complied a tidy little service for midday, using this prayer book and other standard non-Universalist sources. I really need to get his permission to get that online.)

When I remember, and have a seat on the bus to the Day Job, I pray using Morning Prayer. If I get a seat right away, I get to the prayer “for all conditions of men” just in time to pass the Iraqi embassy!

Beginning a daily practice with the red hymnal

Perhaps you want to start a daily prayer, or at least regular prayer discipline and you don’t know where to start. (This also applys to small groups, say UUCF chapters.) The available Anglican and Catholic books are written with a certain amount of in-knowledge that is difficult to acquire. And perhaps, if you are a Universalist or Unitarian (or Unitarian Universalist) want to start with something homegrown and handy. I can help. Go to a certain hymnal.

OK, the old red hymnal, Hymns of the Spirit is neither perfect nor in print, but if you are in a town with a Unitarian or Universalist church founded before (say) 1950, you might be able to beg or borrow one if you ask nicely. (Don’t steal.) Or perhaps you have one. Or you can go to Ebay. (Don’t pay more than $10 in any case. They’re not that rare.)

“Ideally” daily prayer for non-monastics runs morning and evening. And ideally I would be making a lot more money. In both cases: start with what you have and can manage. For the sake of arguement, try evening prayer. (Which will be more likely for a group.)

The “second order of service” is a good evening prayer service: its themes are lightness in the dark, here, the literal darkness of the (coming) night.

If you’re reading your prayers along, start with a couple of sentences, then the exhortation (in which case the “we” is the Church Universal) , the invocation, skipping to the Lord’s Prayer, and then skipping to the prayers, using at least the first and last one.

If this is an act of pure praise, Bible lessons that make you think and reflect are out of place. (Ain’t ya’ tired by evening?) If you want to study scripture, alone or in a group, do that after your prayers. If you want a small portion of scripture to meditate on, that’s another matter and can be re-inserted at “first lesson.”

Likewise, at “responsive reading” there really should be a psalm or Bible song, which also is a vehicle for praise, prayer, and meditation. I’m not thilled with the responsive reading selection in this hymnal, but selections 5, 23, and 69 include traditional fragments appropriate for evenings. Don’t read them too fast.

You might want some extra prayers after those mentioned above see pp. 136-147 and the “communion prayer” (p. 151) from the shorter Communion service.

As for the matter of gender and language. Yeah, it isn’t gender-inclusive, and I’ve come to the point htat sometimes I want to change something, and other times I’ll let it stand. If you’re praying alone, do what you will, and be generous to feelings about tradition as well as sex equity.

But try the service as-is a few times before makeing any changes. Trust me. After a few times you’ll have a better sence of why things belong where they do, and you’ll make better choices in your alterations, if you make any.

Collect for the Evening (Gloria Patri Revised)

O Blessed God, who neither slumberest nor sleepest, take us into thy gracious keeping for this night; and make us mindful of that night when the noise of this busy world shall be heard by us no more. O Lord in whom we trust, help us by thy grace so to live that we may never be afraid to die; and grant that at the last, as now, our vesper song may be: I will lay me down in peace and sleep, for thou, Lord, makest me to dwell in safety. Amen.

  • From “Second Order for Vespers” in Gloria Patri Revised (1903), p. 131