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The Way They Pray in Heaven

The Way They Pray in Heaven

Wednesday, October 22, 2014 – Proper 24, Year Two

[Go to Mission St Clare for an online version of the Daily Office including today’s scripture readings.]

Today’s Readings for the Daily Office:

Psalms 38 (morning) // 119:25-48 (evening)

Ecclesiasticus 7:4-14

Revelation 8:1-13

Luke 10:17-24

One highlight of my week is officiating a service of compline (night prayer) or evening prayer for our local campus ministry. We light candles, burn incense, and chant. We lay down our unfinished work and frenetic lives and put our trust in God to defend and sustain us.

Recently, our campus minister suggested that we sit in silence before beginning our prayer. So now, we begin by sitting in quiet darkness, watching a white cloud of incense hover just over our heads.

This prayer service preceded by silence looks a lot like the heavenly vision from today’s second reading. John of Patmos begins his report by saying, “there was silence in heaven for about half an hour.” Then, he saw an “angel with a golden censer,” who “was given a great quantity of incense to offer with the prayers of all the saints.”

And then, “the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, rose before God from the hand of the angel.” What an exquisite offering of prayer.

I have to admit that the vision takes a dramatic turn after this stunning scene of heavenly prayer. The angels start blowing their trumpets, hail and fire fall from the sky, water turns bitter, the moon and stars go dark, and an eagle cries out a warning about further destruction to come. The vision comes crashing down from heaven to a devastated earth.

But this jarring return to earth reminds us that silence, incense, and angels are not forms of spiritual escapism. When we pray the way they pray in heaven, we don’t get to leave the earth behind. Instead, we get to enter the kingdom of heaven that is with us, and within us. We get to entrust our very selves, our bodily needs, our loved ones, our fragile earth, our whole universe to God’s vision of justice, peace, and abundance. This prayer gives us perseverance in a world that is falling apart.

It’s an extraordinary way to pray, and you’re welcome to join us at 8pm on Thursday nights at St. Martin’s, if you’re local. Otherwise, try letting silence, incense, saints, and angels do your praying for you sometime. That’s the way they pray in heaven, and it might be the only prayer with the power to change the face of the earth.

Lora Walsh blogs about taking risks and seeking grace at A Daily Scandal. She serves as curate of Grace Episcopal Church in Siloam Springs and as director of the Ark Fellows, an Episcopal Service Corps program sponsored by St. Paul’s in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

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