|Morning Prayer at dawn on the beach, Matanzas, Cuba, 2017.|
Yesterday was a hard day. I went to bed exhausted, emotionally and physically spent, having presided at the funeral of a dear young man and neighbor, and right before bed being informed of the death of a long-time friend and mentor from my teaching days. But in my ten years’ journey toward ordination, one of the blessings that has sustained me and guided me has been the cultivation of a rule of life, a set of spiritual, mental, and physical practices that have helped shape my identity as a Christian, as well as as a pastor, deacon, and minister.
The grace of having a rule of life is that, after giving myself a few hours’ sleep, even while still a bit heart-sick and tired, I rose as I do every morning and prayed morning prayer. What a blessing to see that today is the feast day of John Keble, one of the leaders of a 19th century reform and revival movement in the Church of England known as the Oxford Movement, which, besides encouraging the recovery of practices and traditions that drew the Church of England back to its Catholic roots, inspired and shaped the spirituality of Christina Rosetti, the poet.
Keble, besides helping to launch the Oxford Movement, is himself one of the finest poets in the Anglican tradition, and wrote a book of poems entitled The Christian Year, which was intended to inspire devotion to the Prayer Book, that most Anglican collection of worship and theology. Each Sunday and holy day of the Church Year receives a poem, as well as holy days. At the beginning of this beautiful work, Keble wrote two poems, “Morning” and “Evening,” in reflecting on morning and evening prayer. Some of the stanzas from “Morning,” were used for hymn 10 in our hymnal, often used for morning prayer. So after I prayed morning prayer this morning, I listened again to these beautiful words, and let them seep into my heart:
New every morning is the love
Our wakening and uprising prove;
Through sleep and darkness safely brought,
Restored to life, and power, and thought.
New mercies, each returning day,
Hover around us while we pray;
New perils past, new sins forgiven,
New thoughts of God, new hopes of Heaven.
If on our daily course our mind
Be set to hallow all we find,
New treasures still, of countless price,
God will provide for sacrifice.
Old friends, old scenes will lovelier be,
As more of Heaven in each we see:
Some softening gleam of love and prayer
Shall dawn on every cross and care.
The trivial round, the common task,
Would furnish all we ought to ask;
Room to deny ourselves; a road
To bring us daily nearer God.
Only, O Lord, in Thy dear love
Fit us for perfect Rest above;
And help us, this and every day,
To live more nearly as we pray.
Even though the morning light has not yet broken through the shroud of night, nonetheless, the gift of a new day reminds me of the love that is our foundation through Christ our Savior—love that binds us together in one beautiful and mystical body. Even when sitting alone at my desk to pray my prayers in the morning, I am never alone. In every moment as I pray, others all over the world are praying too, and where two or three are gathered together in love, there is Christ also.
We are drawn upward into a great cloud of saints, whose witness to God can be found in something as profound as writing beautiful poetry or as mundane as helping a friend find something lost or placing a gentle hand in the hand of one awash in grief. The tide of love will always come in, and rosy-fingered dawn caresses our hearts, drawing our eyes and hearts upward as we prepare to walk through this day.
The Spirit tugs at my sleeve as I read these words, reminding me of the grace of God that upholds all of us, especially when weary, restless, or heart-sick. Heaven is all around us. This moment is a gift. The face of the Holy One is there before me, shining from all those I meet, beloved, whether friend or stranger. The Lord of Love embraces us in our despair and mourning as much as in our pleasure and rejoicing. This is the day that the Lord has made, and this is the Love that fills my heart and shines out even from where the brokenness is healing by grace and mercy. Come, Lord Jesus. Help me this and every day to live more nearly as I pray.
(This was first published at the Episcopal Cafe's Speaking to the Soul, March 29, 2017.)