I continue to look in my devotional blog at prayers which have either pulled me through personally in my own journey through joys, traumas, and crises or which I have seen help others on this pilgrimage in my work first as a pastor and now as a chaplain.
Today I want to reflect on two of the shortest prayers said regularly at the United Church of Christ church I attend which I have been surprised gave me strength and helped me find center in difficult times, the Gloria and the Doxology.
In our church, near the beginning of the service we all join in a prayer called the “Gloria”, and right before communion we sing a Doxology. The version of these we use is roughly the same every week, but modernizes the language used traditionally.
The Gloria goes:
“Glory be to our Creator, Praise to our Redeemer Lord,
Glory be to our Sustainer, Ever three and ever one,
As it was in the beginning, now and ever more shall be.”
The Doxology is
“Praise God from whom all blessings flow
Praise Christ in whom God’s grace we know
Praise Spirit, with us evermore
One God, triune, whom we adore”.
These both are very simple prayers. To be honest, before I began attending the church where I now attend I simply did not get why these prayers were prayed (actually, usually sung) at those churches I would visit that prayed them. I grew up in a tradition of extemporaneous prayers that did no doxology or Gloria.
It seemed like something that only a very insecure would ask for. “Come on, guys, just I need to hear this Sunday how great I am. After all, it’s discouraging to be God in a rapidly secularized world, with violence and war. What’s a God to do? Could you lift me up this Sunday?”
Such a God –an insecure God in need of our patting on the head – did not seem like the sort of God I would want to worship. It certainly didn’t seem like that beautiful wonderful reality that in rare moments I had felt breaking forth into my life in moments of prayer, in walking in the beauty of nature, in feeling held up and carried through life’s turbulent storms.
Then my late wife had a stroke that took her mobility. It look her ability to speak and care for herself for several weeks, when I had to play her nursemaid. It turned our life into turmoil. We had been living in two different towns with me working in Chapel Hill as a chaplain at the hospital during the week and coming home to see her on the weekend in Fayetteville at the church she pastored. Clearly we had to uproot her life, move her out to Chapel Hill, for she could not care for herself those weeks let alone continue to pastor. We had to move, both of us, and in a hurry.
My life was a storm and a turmoil.
When her aphasia (inability to speak clearly) from the stroke began to break, she asked to find a church. We strolled into the United Church of Chapel Hill and were warmly welcomed, struck too at its inclusiveness – with people who were queer and who had disabilities being the leaders who first welcomed us. As we sang the songs, I found myself drawn and stuck on the words of the Gloria and the Doxology.
They reminded me that though my life felt like a raging storm, like constant threat and loss, it had a center of silence and peace. Those words when my late wife could not speak clearly gave both of us words to pray. And though I had no aphasia, to be honest, prayer was pretty blasted difficult. What do I say to a God who lets this happen to one I love? Those words of Gloria gave me words.
It is amazing because what I said was an affirmation that, despite every appearance, my life was not unravelling – nor hers. For though life quakes, storms come, yet the Center of life is solid. It is the God who was, is, and is to Come. A God beyond my words and knowing. Yet found in the goodness that breaks forth in every dark place, in the greening of spring, in the cry of birds in the most solitary desert or winter wilderness.
This God is always there.
In Buddhism they use the language of Nothingness or Silence for that Sacred Mystery in which we seek to enter in our prayers. I found singing these words each week an invitation into Silence and Nothing. It was entering the solitary private sanctuary in the heart of the world where the storm may blow over, the wind pound, but yet where I could let my soul rest.
I tell people now those words each week were the one solitary, unchanging place where I could for but a moment stand still, not feeling I was dropping. They were handholds and footfolds that let me rest.
They proclaim that the real reality, the true truth, of our lives is not loss and pain, turmoil and trauma, but love. For proclaiming God as Triune – Creator, Christ, and Spirit – is not classically in Christianity proclaiming some metaphysical concept which, let’s admit it, none of us understand. It is instead proclaiming that before life was, the universe was, somehow God was love. The Creator embracing the Christ, the Christ embracing the Spirit, the Spirit flowing in love in the Creator and the Christ. God is always love. And that life burst forth not out of desperate need for a lonely bachelor God but as the overflow of love that God already had within God’s own Three-Personed nature. And that now always, ever, the life we encounter, the strength that helps us stand in crushing pain and overwhelming joy, is but the overflowing of a love, a love that birthed us into the world, a love that will one day call us as it called dear Katharine home to itself, a love that animates all that is.
I needed that reminder in those dark days where I struggled not to feel abandoned or attacked by the Great Creator. I needed it when Kat passed from this world, as a reminder that something remained solid. I need it still, on wonderfully great days in which I might forget it even the joys are a gift and the accomplishments I make not only my own but available because of the many who have stood with me on this journey.
Whether in these words and practices, or another, may y’all find that solid place on which to stand and that invitation to love.
Your progressive redneck preacher,