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A great book for those seeking a deeper prayer life.
on December 21, 2010
This is one of the best resources for anyone looking to explore the ancient Christian tradition of daily prayer (sometimes known as the Daily Office). Most prayer books are either dauntingly complex (for example, the four volumes of the Roman Catholic Liturgy of the Hours) or overly simplified. The latter are great for a brief while, but don't give enough variation and depth to keep you engaged in the long term.
"Seeking God's Face" hits the perfect midpoint. Philip Reinders, the editor, has done a terrific job of presenting prayer that follows the rich variety of the church year - the seasons of Advent, Christmas, Lent, Easter and so on - in an accessible and easy-to-use format.
Perhaps the greatest single bit of genius in the book is the little sidebars on each page giving dates to guide you through the church year until the end of 2026. You could pray this book for fifteen years without ever having to know anything more than today's date. Anyone who's ever used a prayer book will know what a boon this is!
Each day's prayer is split into seven sections: (i) Invitation - a short introductory verse; (ii) Bible Song - a section from one of the Psalms; (iii) Bible Reading - just what it says; (iv) Dwelling - an encouragement to richer engagement with the reading; (v) Free Prayer - three possible prayer themes to stimulate your own prayer; (vi) Prayer - a short prayer (see below on this); and (vii) Blessing - another brief Bible verse.
The whole book is great, but the Prayer for each day - section vi, which in liturgical tradition would be called the Collect - deserves special mention. Reinders,a Reformed pastor, has mined six of the great Reformed statements of faith such as the Canons of Dort or the Westminster Confession and turned their somewhat dry formulae (at least, they seem that way to me!) into beautiful and poetic prayers. I just opened the book at random, and here's an example from the page I found (205):
"God of glory, for centuries there were flickers of it in the ceremonies and symbols of the law, sparks of it in prophetic words. I thank you that all this foreshadowing is eclipsed in the brilliance of Jesus, my glorious Savior. Amen."
The abbreviated note after the prayer, BC 25, tells us that this prayer is based on Article 25 of the Belgic Confession. In case you don't have your copy of BC to hand (grin!), I googled it for you:
"We believe that the ceremonies and symbols of the law have ended with the coming of Christ, and that all foreshadowings have come to an end, so that the use of them ought to be abolished among Christians. Yet the truth and substance of these things remain for us in Jesus Christ, in whom they have been fulfilled. Nevertheless, we continue to use the witnesses drawn from the law and prophets to confirm us in the gospel and to regulate our lives with full integrity for the glory of God, according to his will."
You can see how the prayer comes from the Confession - but, at least for this Anglican who doesn't find the language of the Reformed confessions all that inspiring, I'll take the prayer any day of the week.
All in all, a lovely book. I really can't find anything about it I don't like; even the engraved leather-like cover is attractive and a pleasure to hold, and that's always nice in a book you're handling daily. This isn't a book for the hard-core Office freaks; you won't find a seven-fold monastic office here. But for a new Christian, or a beginner at Daily Prayer, or someone who needs a simple but rich Office to pray, or for a community of folks who pray together daily, this could well be ideal. I spent around fifteen years working in Anglican parishes, and I wish this book had been available then. I would've bought one for every parishioner...