Br. Eldridge Pendleton (1940-2015) offered this homily on the prayer of adoration at the Monastery as part four of the Teach Us to Pray series, October 27, 2009.
Exodus 3: 1-15; 1 John 4: 7-19; Matthew 13: 44-53
Remember! Remember that in this chapel we are on holy ground. It is as holy as the place on Mount Horeb where Moses saw the burning bush and encountered God, and for the same reason. In this chapel for over seventy years many thousands of men and women have had equally momentous encounters with God, encounters that have changed their lives in profound ways. Some have discovered God for the first time here. Others, suffering or at life’s crossroads have found comfort and the answers they needed to make major decisions. The walls of this holy place have been hallowed and impregnated by their prayers. Many who worship in this space over time tend to forget its numinous quality, but are reminded of it by the comments of those who enter it for the first time and find themselves enveloped by its holiness. They tell us of the sense of peace they find here. Some even mention their conviction that God is in this chapel. We are on holy ground and should treat it with reverence and awe.
Remember. Remember a time in your life when you were aware of being in the presence of holiness. Maybe it was when God broke into your life during a time of questioning, desolation or struggle. Or maybe you sensed holiness in a place of great natural beauty such as a mountain peak or a spectacular sunset, or found it in a moment of personal joy. Sometimes God enters our lives individually under the most ordinary circumstances. I have experienced the presence of God a number of times and each has affected the course of my life profoundly. One of the most memorable occurred in this chapel over ten years ago. That evening we had just finished Evening Prayer and as I was putting away my Office Book I heard Jesus say, “Don’t worry, Eldridge. I will be with you through it all the way.” I knew I heard Jesus speaking to me, somehow I identified it as his voice although he had never spoken to me before, but I could not imagine what he was talking about. Two days later I had the first of two heart attacks in quick succession. Only then did I understand the meaning of what he had said. And during my convalescence, I had the assurance that whatever the outcome, it would be okay. It is in moments of holy presence we are especially aware of God’s love. But we can as easily come to it in other ways—in meditation, worship, in the love for another. Remember the first experience you had of the Holy Week liturgy, of your time during the all night vigil before the consecrated bread and wine on Maundy Thursday or the veneration of the Cross on Good Friday. Or maybe it happened when you and others were praying the Stations of the Cross. During such times of devotion you may have had a palpable sense of being in the presence of holiness. Or maybe it happened during the course of a Eucharist on an ordinary Sunday or other day. Whenever and wherever it occurs we are intensely aware of God’s love. And love responds with love. We are moved to gratitude and adoration by what God has done for us.
In this series on Ways to Pray, the focus this evening is on prayer of adoration. The catechism of the Book of Common Prayer defines adoration as “the lifting up of the heart and mind to God, asking nothing but to enjoy God’s presence.” It is closely related to other forms of prayer, especially praise and thanksgiving, but with few words. Instead it depends on memory, meditation and the imagination and requires our attention. We must remember that we are in the presence of God and remember what God has done for us. We love because God first loved us and taught us how to love. Our adoration enriches our participation in public worship, but can greatly enhance our private prayer as well. It is a necessary preparation to our participation and accompaniment in the celebration of the Eucharist or any other way we engage with God. As we are reminded in the great commandment, we love God with all our heart, mind, body and soul.
Two of the aims of the Anglican reformers of the 19th century Oxford Movement were that the Eucharist become the principal act of Christian worship on Sunday and that there be frequent celebrations of the Eucharist at other times. In the current Book of Common Prayer of the Episcopal Church their hope has become a reality. This is a major liturgical revolution. It was the Oxford reformers who nudged the sacrament to center stage, encouraging frequent offerings of the Eucharist and its reservation for ministering to the sick and as a focus for prayer. While this quiet revolution has been a tremendous gift to the spiritual vitality and worship of the church, the practice of frequent communion is a challenge to us as individuals. As the Rule of the Society of St. John the Evangelist reminds us, “it is not possible to participate in the Eucharist with intense devotion and awareness every time. Each one of us will need to find a way of constantly renewing through meditation one’s self offering and receptivity so that we can come to Communion often “with (in Fr. Benson’s words) that tender love which is due to Him to whom we are so mysteriously united.”
The simplest form of prayer we can offer God is adoration. All we have to do is remember what God has done for us and for the world and express our gratitude by loving in return. We do not need words to adore, but we do need to discipline ourselves to be present. Spiritual guides recommend reflection and prayer as preparation for the Eucharist as well as prayer at its conclusion. Liturgy is filled with prompts to keep our hearts engaged—“blessed be God,” “Almighty God, to whom all hearts are open,” “lift up your hearts,” “Our Father in Heaven, hallowed be your name,” “Come, let us bow down and bend the knee, and kneel before the Lord our Maker” and so on. But we have heard these words for so long that we no longer pay attention.
For adoration to become a part of our prayer life, we need to find ways to come to prayer and worship afresh. Jesus said, the Kingdom of Heaven is like a householder who goes into his storehouse and brings out something old and something new. Go back to the ways you have prayed in the past and found rewarding and find ways to breathe new life into them. Or try something new. If you engage your body in worship, remind yourself why you make the sign of the cross or a solemn bow or genuflection. If you have never done it before, spend time before the reserved Sacrament loving Jesus. The important thing is to let your heart be grateful. Respond to the invitation of the Eucharistic Great Thanksgiving to lift up one’s heart and let love and gratitude inform each moment of the day. By doing so, by practicing adoration, our whole life becomes love and we are ever drawn more deeply into the mystery of the divine presence, near to the heart of God.
I would like to conclude with a remarkable consideration of God’s love by an English priest of the last century, R. A. Charles Browne.
Love always must have an active expression. Love of God is actively expressed through love of God’s things: in our loving these things, God draws us into union with [Christ]. To love God’s things is not to be confused with haphazard attention to what immediately attracts us. To love God’s things is an enduring, imaginative, intelligent and humble attention, which, of course, includes use of God’s things according to their nature. There is a way of regarding the unconsecrated bread and wine upon the altar. There is also a way of regarding the consecrated bread and wine upon the altar which leads us to an awareness of the great mysteries of birth and life and death, of redemption and time and sin. There in the scrap of bread is dimly seen the triumph over death and life and principalities and powers, things present and things to come. It is a triumph that is not equivalent to total destruction. [Christ] did not come down from Heaven to unmake but to remake, to restore what sin has broken so that we are gathered up as fragments into the unity of humans and angels where time and eternity, earth and Heaven lose their distinction in Him who is our beginning and our end.
Through divine love we come to the truth, and from that spiritual understanding adore. We lift our heart and mind to God, asking nothing but to enjoy God’s presence.
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