Classic Country and Common Prayer

I grew up on classic country. Hank, Sr., Waylon and Willie. Dolly. Loretta.

If you've listened to country, you know the list. You know the sounds. You know the joke about playing a country song backwards and getting your job back, your spouse back, and your dog back.

When I was much younger, country was not a mainstream genre. Artists would play local fairs and festivals, and they would actually play instruments. If you couldn't sing and play, you likely didn't last long. Local radio stations were intimately involved with an artist's song being played, and autotune did not exist. But sparkly suits did.

Country is now a mainstream genre, and I don't recognize most of the music. Between bro country, which has long overstayed its welcome, and radio conglomerates, the deep, earthy music with roots in Bluegrass, Blues, Celtic, and Gospel is rarely heard on the radio.

Thankfully roots grow deep, and some singers, songwriters, and musicians have souls that reach back to sing the music of the past with newness. If you haven't heard Chris Stapleton, I commend his music to you. It's filled with heartache, hope, poor choices, and whisky. In other words, it's country from its first to its last guitar chord.

I share all this because this image, the mainstreaming of country music, came to mind as I read and re-read Derek Olsen's Inwardly Digest: The Prayer Book as Guide to a Spiritual Life, newly released from Forward Movement. Full and fair disclosure - I write for several of Forward Movement's ministries, including Lent Madness, and I received an advance copy, asking if I would blurb the book. I don't normally do book reviews on the blog, but this book needs to be in the hands of many Episcopalians, clergy and laity.

As a priest, liturgy is a big part of what I do. As an Episcopal priest, the liturgies from the Book of Common Prayer are foundational for me, for all who took vows, and for all who worship in the Episcopal Church. They are the solid ground on which our patterns and habits of worship are built. They are, as Derek writes, the center of our unity.

Yet like the allure of all that seems hip and cool, I wonder if we've too easily put the Book of Common Prayer on the shelf with our classic country record albums, appreciating it only as a relic of the past while we attempt to sate our deep spiritual longing with auto-tune. I've lost count of the number of clergy who have looked at me with some disdain with I share we "only" use the Book of Common Prayer and approved supplemental eucharistic liturgies (i.e. Enriching Our Worship) for Sunday Eucharists.

"Don't you want your church to grow?" they ask.

"But you're a woman," some have said.

"Are you not good at liturgy?"

Yes, I want the church to grow as disciples of Jesus.

Yes, I'm a woman, and thanks for making a vast gender stereotype.

And yes, I am good at liturgy. But not better than thousands of years of a faith community.  I love the Book of Common Prayer. I love the acts that have been, as Derek so correctly says, "embraced and passed on by a diverse group over the centuries - not just dreamed up by a few people last week."

I love the way the Book speaks about Jesus and our faith. I love that silence is an integral part of our prayer life, not just a haphazard lapse of time between words. I love the ancient and modern words held together in the same place. I love the cadences of prayers said day after day, week after week, month after month, and year after year.

I don't love that so many seem to ignore these prayers because they are not hip and cool enough, because they are not modern enough, not high church enough, or not whatever enough for worshipping communities.

The Episcopal Church, the church itself, is bigger than me and my likes and dislikes. Derek delves deeply into the whole of the Book of Common Prayer, starting with the liturgical calendar, moving through the Daily Office (a service I am always thankful to see given import), and reminds us of the significance, the richness, the complexity and the simplicity of our life of prayer. He elegantly weaves together the historical significance of the Book of Common Prayer, the spiritual depth of it, the eternal wisdom of the process of letting God work with and in us in our lives as we worship, and his own reflections about prayer in his life.

He reminds readers of why this Book matters. It is a way - a prominent way - we as Episcopalians nurture our relationship with God. Derek takes the parts of liturgies, from the collects to scriptures to incense, and shares how each piece invites us into a different aspect of our relationship with God, each other, and ourselves. After reading his book, I returned to the Holy Eucharist on Sunday with a vision of a beauty I'd seen for years, but now appreciated with more focus.

Derek, I suspect, would not hold that the Book of Common Prayer should never change. After all, human relationships with God are all about change. He does remind us that the classics have withstood time for a reason. They speak to the vastness of human experience, and while we are invited, welcomed, and challenged to reconsider how we express our experiences and relationships with God in new ways, we should be careful how quickly we discount the words, the silences, and the prayers our souls have spoken for eons.

I'm so glad Derek wrote this book. I hope clergy will read, learn, and inwardly digest it. I hope laity will do the same. Its insights will inform both. Get this book, put on some Dolly Parton, and reconnect with the richness of all that is the Book of Common Prayer.

If you'd like to order Derek's book, it's available here from Forward Movement. 


Unknown said…
Thanks for the thoughtful write-up. I'm looking forward to getting my copy!

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