Adoration: Prayer of Adoration – Br. Eldridge Pendleton
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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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Many years ago I was at a Retreat at SSJE. I was troubled because my ex-husband lived in Boston and I thought I should call him.I went into the chapel to pray. While in prayer.I received a distinct message from God in my head, which said “Leave him to me…I will take care of him…Do not call him” I did just that and I have never forgotten that moment.
What a lovely sermon! So nice to hear the voice of Br. Eldridge. I am thankful that these words helped me to look forward to my first visit to the monastery next year. And I am thankful to better understand and be able to categorize some of my prayers — prayers of adoration.
I long to be (or become?) more involved in formal settings for prayer, contemplation, and meditation.
However, I live in Virginia so it is a long way (too far) to go to Cambridge, Boston, Hudson valley (Holy Cross), etc. Can you recommend a resource (Episcopal-based and accepting of women)? I spent a summer at St. Margaret’s in So. Duxbury, (50 years ago as a camp counselor) but the closest I can find is Holiday House in Cape May, and although I have suggested that it become more of a retreat center (and I would be willIng to help), that idea was dismissed although the chapel has been cleaned out and more available for use.
In 1999 I attended a Retreat at SSJE in Boston. I spent some time in front of the Blessed Sacrament in your Chapel. I was beset by a desire to call my former husband and talk to him. God spoke to me and said “I will look after him it is not for you to speak to him” I did not call. The next year I went to Cursillo and was moved to write him a letter. God said “Do it” and I did. A burden was lifted from my heart and he wrote me back with how important it was to him that I forgave him. He died five years later and I am now friends with his widow. It was God’s time.that counted not mine
Br. Eldridge, your words are a gift, and so are you. Very early this morning, unable to sleep, I pulled out my Book of Common Prayer, not having looked at it in months. I read some of the collects, and the Kyrie Pantokrator, and realized I had been letting languish for too long this wonderful guide to talking with God. The words in your sermon reinforce that realization, and add depth and grace to it. Thank you.
I like the injunction to look to our own past ways of prayer and revitalize them. It’s a healing reaffirmation of past work done, from which it’s easy to be distanced, and a reminder of the consistency and continuity of faith possible with a loving God Who sees our efforts and cares for us as we do what we can to be hands and feet on the earth in faith.
Thanks especially for the final quotation. It lends strength to the the importance of a lively, enacted faith, impelled by truths realized in quiet meditation, the balanced nature of our life in prayer, which is doing as well as speaking.
Thanks, Bro. Eldridge, for reminding me of the special times of meditation I enjoyed in the monastery chapel over 50 years ago when I was in seminary. When I pray I often envision the lovely altar and baldacchino that for me is unforgettable. Also memorable was Fr. Hamilton Johnson, who heard my first confession, and in later years his leaning on his staff to enable his way to the chapel for prayer, plus Fr. Robert Smith who was my spiritual guide and who cared enough to visit my family and me when I was teaching at St. Andrew’s School, Sewanee, Tenn. when he was ministering to the Sisters of St. Mary Convent there. Your experience of Jesus assuring his presence as you went through a trying time matched an experience I had at a crucial crossroad in my life. Thank you for your inspiring words and for sharing your deepest truths.
Derald Stump +
How wonderful to hear the words of the sermon today and to find the words of one of my fellow seminarians responding to this same sermon over a year ago. I pray all is well with him. I thank God for his presence with me now through the faithful witness of brothers in Christ Jesus.
Br. Eldridge thank you for this inspirational sermon. It has opened my heart more and expand my heart more on prayer. It has made me think more of my vocation.