Faith Reflections

Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals

Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals by Shane Claiborne, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove and Enuma Okoro

I am an Anglo-Catholic snob. Where I worship there are six candles on the altar, the whole Nicene Creed is recited, and liberal amounts of incense anoint the congregation.

My heart grieves when I hear that the panicked clergy of our day, dismayed by dwindling numbers in the pews, begin to contemplate incorporating hip-hop into their liturgy.

Although I like my religion traditional and am not usually a fan of reinvented wheels, I was surprisingly excited when I heard that the coolest evangelicals in the New Monasticism movement (it’s what all the kids are talking about these days) were remaking the Book of Common Prayer. 

I first heard of the New Monasticism about two years ago when a friend of mine passed me a copy of Shane Claiborne’s The Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical.

The book is his biography of faith, chronicling his time in seminary, travelling to Calcutta to work with Mother Teresa and then joining a Christian Peacemaker Team on tour in Iraq.

It is a refreshing read that I would recommend to frustrated Generation X or Y Christians who are looking for models of how to be the church in these post-modern times.

The latest project the New Monastics have pulled together is Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals — the end result of a collaboration by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, Enuma Okoro and Shane Claiborne, plus scores of priests, nuns, pastors and other faithful.

In this volume we have the pleasure of witnessing a great return to the ideals of collective worship, of what it means to practice the unity of the church.

Far more than a mere devotional, the book has 365 days of prayer laid out, stringing together a combination of prayers, devotionals and hymns that span denominational lines from Serbian Orthodox to Anabaptist.

Also recognizing feast and saint days, marking the anniversaries of murders committed by officers of the Salvadoran military and noting the birthday of Dorothy Day, the book connects the dots between the many facets of the Christian tradition while being grounded in a vision of what the kingdom of God looks like, and what it doesn’t look like.

To commemorate the launch of the book Claiborne and company organized 150 Common Praise Parties across North America where the book was put into practice for the first time.

At the one I attended, Wilson-Hartgrove thanked us via YouTube. The video left us with the image of a baton of praise being passed on from east to west as the sun travels, so that all of time and space are covered by our prayers without cease.

This is something I fear is lost on my generation of Anglicans. The ideal behind the Book of Common Prayer is that we, as a global communion, are praying the Psalms with and for each other.

By the practice of the daily offices we are conquering the earthly boundaries of space and time and achieving a unity that goes beyond worldly divisions.

What I love in this book is how my stereotypes of evangelicals are shattered. For a long time I have railed against the profound individualism I ascribed to the Bible-thumbing, wailing and flailing, anti-liturgical know-it-alls, who seem stuck on sin rather than our deliverance from it.

But I am a repenting snob, who sees in this movement a hungering to recover the idea of us: the church, the mystical body of Christ in which the individual Christian is magnified beyond the limits that our secular-consumer culture maintains.

I think there is a great lesson for us High Church folk to take note of here. Proceeding into the 21st century we must return to the root of ourselves. The phrase the New Monastics use to express this returning is ‘our ancient future.’

As we hurtle into a time that is propelled by the idea of salvation by technological innovation we all must come back to the rituals that bind us to eternity — the space outside of time. It is there that we can meet one another, in prayer and unity.


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