Luxury Advent Calendar for the Soul – 19 December

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Behind today’s window is an advent responsory. This is what is prayed each morning as part of the Daily Office in Advent and I rather like it as it sounds a bit like something from Game of Thrones (or rather Game of Thrones’ liturgy sounds like ours)! You might like to make this part of your prayers today:

Now it is time to awake out of sleep,
for the night is far spent and the day is at hand.

Now is our salvation nearer than when we first believed,
for the night is far spent.

Let us therefore cast off the works of darkness
and put on the armour of light,
for the day is at hand.

Put on the Lord Jesus Christ
and make no provision for the flesh,
for the night is far spent and the day is at hand.

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What are ember days and what does being made a deacon mean?

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Ordination 2014 - wordingI wrote this explanation for people coming to my ordination especially for those unfamiliar with some of the complexities of the Church of England. Feel free to adapt and share this yourself if you are about to be made deacon!

I will be made a deacon by the Bishop of Durham (by praying and the laying on of hands). A deacon is the first of the three historic ‘orders’ of ministry: deacon, priest and bishop. The word deacon comes from the Greek meaning ‘servant’. All priests and bishops start their life as a deacon; this is because of Jesus’ charge to his disciples to be servants to all as he washed their feet:

‘So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.’ (John 13:14).

In fact, you never stop being a deacon once you’ve been made one. I will serve as a deacon for one year – then next year, God willing, I will be ordained Priest in a similar service at the cathedral.

Deacons wear a stole – a special scarf – as a sign of their role in the church. A deacon’s stole is worn diagonally across the body and represents the towel that Jesus wrapped around him as he washed the disciples’ feet. This is as a constant reminder both to the deacon and to the people they serve that we are all called at our baptism to serve one another, following the pattern of Jesus Christ. My dad has generously designed and made my ordination stole – you can ask me about the significance of the design on the big day!

So as deacon, from 29th June 2014 I will:

  • Be a ‘clerk in Holy Orders’
  • Be known as the Reverend Bryony Taylor
  • Wear a dog collar (clerical collar)
  • Be able to conduct funerals and baptisms
  • Read the gospel, preach and assist the priest at Holy Communion
  • Work in the community to seek to make Christ’s love visible, with a special care for the poor and needy

I will also be known as a curate (from the phrase ‘cure of souls’) – which has come to mean ‘trainee vicar’ (technically I’ll be Assistant Curate) – and my training period at St Michael’s in Houghton Le Spring will be for 3 ½ to 4 years with the Rector Sue Pinnington who will be my ‘Training Incumbent’.

Once I am ordained priest (God-willing) in 2015, in addition to these things I will:

  • Be able to lead a service of Holy Communion (consecrate the bread and wine)
  • Be able to conduct weddings in the Church of England
  • Be able to pronounce absolution (forgiveness of sins)
  • Be able to give Blessings and anoint people with holy oil for healing/the last rites

 

What are you being for Lent? #bigread14

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I can’t believe it’s Lent again already! It creeps up on me every year.

I was just chatting to a friend and reflecting that, to an extent, being at theological college feels a bit like a permanent Lent – in that we’re constantly required to reflect on what God is doing in our lives and how he is shaping us for ministry – this painful process is what is called ‘formation’.

Remembering that the point of Lent (in my opinion) is to recalibrate oneself to ‘point north’ like a compass does automatically – that is to reorientate ourselves towards Christ and the cross – ultimately to get closer to God – it is worth considering whether what you’re planning to do for Lent will help you to do that.

It is so easy for Lent to become the Christian version of New Year’s Resolutions and for discussions to end up all about what I’m doing for Lent rather than what God might be doing in us.

So I’m not going to tell you what to do for Lent. Maybe the question you might want to ask yourself is ‘what am I going to be for Lent?’ Or ‘what is Lent going to be for?’

This year I am simply joining in the Big Bible Project’s Big Read 2014 and reading along with Stephen Cherry’s book Barefoot Prayers. I figured that I can manage to read one prayer a day and that it ‘passes my test’ of whether it will help me to recalibrate myself towards Christ!

Here’s some info about the Big Read to whet your appetite if you would like to join in:

barefoot prayers FC For Lent 2014, we will be working through Stephen Cherry’s new book Barefoot Prayers. What follows is the text which will be inside the front cover of the book:

Like the sound of working through this book with others around the world? Want to be inspired in your discipleship journey through poetry, creativity and input from a range of voices over Lent? Want to delve into the Bible with your cell group, and share some of those conversations with others through social media?

JOIN THE BIG READ FOR LENT 2014!

Think about how deeply you’d like to be involved and choose from the following options:

  • just read the book;
  • access FREE house-group study materials (developed by Rev Dr Kate Bruce and Dr Bex Lewis)

    A menu which includes Nibbles (conversation starters); Main Course (Bible materials, author videos, reflections, questions); Dessert (a prayerful activity); After Dinner Chocs (something to take away and sink your teeth into, or suck on, over the week);

  • participate in a Facebook group (http://j.mp/FBBigRead) sharing ideas and discussing Big Read themes
  • join discussions through Twitter using the hashtag #bigread14;
  • take advantage of tips, tricks, interviews and training in social media (materials can be found via http://bigbible.org.uk/digilit/) in order to contribute online through word, image or sound.
  • Participate in #Do1NiceThing each day, in daily activities inspired by the poems, provided by Love Your Streets (Street Angels)

bigread14-135 Materials related to The Big Read 2014, and opportunities to engage with it, can be accessed via http://bigbible.org.uk/tag/bigread14, whilst Dr Sara Batts has provided some useful thinking on running housegroups.

The daily readings start on 2 March 2014, with Ash Wednesday (the official start of Lent) on 5 March. Lent finishes on 17 April 2014, with the readings finishing on 26 April.

Join In : Daily I Weekly

DOWNLOAD the postcard (PDF) – includes a beautiful poem on simplicity, or contact codec-admin@durham.ac.uk if you’d like some to distribute in your church. 

I do not know how to pray

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My prayer life has developed a new rhythm over the past year. I’ve been reading the Anglican ‘daily office’ – Morning Prayer and Compline each day, when I wake up and just before going to bed. Morning Prayer and Compline include the reading of different psalms, short passages of scripture and some set prayers (which are largely based on scripture). I already really like liturgy and I’m finding that this pattern of prayer is becoming a part of me – I’m starting to really miss it if I don’t get around to it.

This has made me wonder more about what prayer is. In the evangelical settings in which I’ve spent most of my adult life, there has been a lack of ‘set prayers’ – all prayer has always been extempore and usually informed by a list of ‘prayer points’ – specific things to pray for. There is nothing wrong with this kind of prayer – it’s good to pray specifically for things – particularly as it helps you to be more aware of answers to prayer. However, it’s not the only kind of prayer.

These are some of the other types of prayer I am discovering:

Silence

Just sitting in silence with God (even if you can’t feel his presence) is a form of prayer. In some ways it can be a kind of offering. I tend to surround myself with noise – I nearly always have some music on or the tv. Setting aside some time to be completely silent is a way in which I can say – “God, this time is yours now”. Some years ago I went to the Taize community in France. In each service there, they have a 10 minute period of silence. When I first arrived I decided to go through my ‘prayer points’ list in the 10 minutes silence. After a couple of services I realised that the silence was not there for me to fill, more that I was there to be filled by the silence, by the peace, by the presence of God.

Praying the psalms

Reading the psalms each day is interesting. Sometimes the sentiment of the psalm exactly matches how I feel. Sometimes it doesn’t at all. As I say the psalms I seek to make them my prayer – either for my own situation if it is reflective of how I feel or for others if it is not. Praying the psalms helps me not to plough the same furrow every day with my prayers – left to my own devices I often find myself praying the same things. Praying the psalms ensures that I am constantly reorienting myself towards God and His praise and that I am also acknowledging those more negative feelings I might have.

Comfort prayers

Some of the prayers that are always part of the daily office become a kind of comfort. I can even pray them at other times because I have learnt them by heart. When I can’t think what to pray, I can draw on one of these, like this beautiful prayer from Compline:

Visit this place, O Lord, we pray,
and drive far from it the snares of the enemy;
may your holy angels dwell with us and guard us in peace,
and may your blessing be always upon us;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Blessings

Recently we were in a church that offered healing prayer during communion. My friend went to be prayed for and began describing his situation, the things he felt he needed prayer for – interestingly, the team pretty much ignored him and simply laid on hands and prayed a blessing over him. I think it can be a bit of an evangelical hang up that we feel the need to list our requests before receiving prayer from someone. Of course, the Lord knows our situation even better than we know it ourselves, so why do we feel the need to describe it in detail? It’s a good lesson in humility to simply ask for a blessing and receive it, knowing that God will give us what we need, whether we’ve articulated it or not.

Candles

This blog post was triggered by an article I read in the Church Times yesterday. The prayer of the week was this one:

Sometimes prayer is just that: a tiny, perhaps even pathetic, gesture. A nod to God of our need for Him. And that’s ok.

Lessons from a labyrinth – enjoying the journey

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I’m currently in a bit of a strange ‘in between’ time in my life, preparing to go to theological college in October but still carrying on in my current job now. The last two years or so have been a bit of a time of waiting and preparing for me and I have been learning a lot about those two things.

Last year I got to walk a prayer labyrinth for the first time. What I learnt through this profound spiritual experience is really relevant to the space I am in now in my life.

  • Maybe you’re in a similar situation – waiting for something to happen, for something big to change for you?
  • How do we focus on what’s happening now and make sure we enjoy each part of the journey for what it is?

Here are some reflections I wrote last year on the prayer labyrinth:

Here is an image of the prayer labyrinth I walked.

There is only one path in a prayer labyrinth. There are no dead ends, it is one complete pathway that moves to the centre and back out again by the same route.

Some parts of the journey are short, and feel short lived – you find yourself sometimes not wanting to turn the corner. Other parts of the journey are long and exhilarating. Some parts feel dull and repetitive. The centre of the labyrinth represents communion with God. As I was walking to the centre I was longing to reach it. Interestingly, something I noticed was that although the centre of the labyrinth was a place to stop and be embraced by God, the spirit of God was with me throughout the walk – on the way to the centre and on the way out. I realised that my perception was that I could only ‘truly meet with God’ in the centre, when in actual fact, He was there with me all the time – behind and before me (like Psalm 139:5).

The whole experience was a powerful metaphor for the Christian journey. The journey we take each day, each year and the journey we take with God over the whole of our lives. I was amazed how the walk felt similar to a big hike up a mountain, with the hard bits, easy bits and ‘beautiful views’.

What I am going to try and remember from my experience is:

  • Communion with God is always available to me – I only have to open myself to Him and ask Him to come and be with me. After all, Jesus says ‘behold, I stand at the door and knock’ (Rev 3:20)

  • Jesus is with me always (Matt 28:20) – behind and before me. I am walking in His footsteps and He is right behind me – whether on the easy path or the difficult path.

If you get the chance to walk a prayer labyrinth, I would really recommend it!

To find out more about labyrinths and to take part in an online labyrinth visit: http://www.labyrinth.org.uk/

Intercessions based around the Sarum Primer ‘God be in my head’ prayer

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I led the intercessions last night at church and thought I would share them here as they are a set of prayers that could be used in any service based around one of my favourite prayers, the famous Sarum Primer:

God be in my head
and in my understanding;
God be in my eyes
and in my looking;
God be in my mouth
and in my speaking;
God be in my heart
and in my thinking;
God be at my end
and in my departing

Amen

Feel free to use or adapt the intercessions below for your own context.

Today, to help us pray we are going to use a medieval prayer known as the Sarum Primer which first appeared in 1514. I love using old prayers like this – as we pray think of all those Christians through the centuries that have prayed this same prayer, trusting that God would hear them.

God be in my head
and in my understanding;

Father, our minds are constantly fed from newspapers, tv and conversations with others. Help us to filter what we read about and what we hear to discern what you might be saying. Renew our minds and give us wisdom. Help us be more concerned to understand than be understood. Help us to bring your wisdom to bear in our conversations and dealings with others. Help us as we interpret the times we are living in. We pray for all those involved in leadership in our communities and in governments around the world. Give wisdom and understanding to all those involved in decision making – especially in those situations which will impact the most on the poor and the weak.

God be in my eyes
and in my looking;

Father, as we look around us we see all sorts of things, our senses are assaulted with so many images every day. Thank you for those things we see that bring us joy – like the first flowers of spring or the sunshine in the early morning or the birth of a baby. Help us to look at the world through your eyes. Show us the things we need to see. Show us the people and situations that need your help and prompt us to help if we can. Let our eyes be your eyes.

God be in my mouth
and in my speaking;

Jesus, thank you that you choose to use us to reach the world with your love. Help us when we speak to speak words that build up and don’t tear down. Guide us to think before we speak and consider our words carefully. We pray for all those who have been hurt by something someone has said to them – these wounds can often be more painful than physical wounds. We pray for healing where words have hurt and we ask forgiveness for the times when we have said the wrong thing. Thank you for the words of love you speak to us. Speak through us, Lord we pray, that people might know your love in their lives.

God be in my heart
and in my thinking;

Lord, lots of things dominate our thoughts. Many of these things are the worries we have for friends or family. We lift to you now those people and situations that are on our minds. We invite you to intervene in these situations. Help us to trust that you hear our prayers. Lift the burdens we are carrying in our hearts and help us to know that your burden is light. Help us to let go of our anxieties and hand over our lives to your control.

God be at my end
and in my departing

Father, we pray for all those coming to an ending. For those who are coming to the end of their lives – we pray for their carers and families. We pray for those who are finishing a project, or coming to the end of a job and for those preparing for retirement. Be with us in our endings and remind us that each day is a new beginning with you.

So as we go into a new week, let us pray together the prayer from the Sarem Primer:

God be in my head
and in my understanding;
God be in my eyes
and in my looking;
God be in my mouth
and in my speaking;
God be in my heart
and in my thinking;
God be at my end
and in my departing

Amen