Sales of devotional books — what some in mainline Protestant churches refer to as meditation books — tend to spike with the coming of a new year. This fall, Zondervan released a resource authored by Shane Claiborne with Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove (author of God’s Economy), Enuma Okoro (The Reluctant Pilgrim), and a large supporting cast (including more substantial borrowings from Phyllis Tickle and Andy Raine) that introduces liturgical prayer to a largely Evangelical audience unfamiliar with prayer books or liturgy itself. Believing this book to have been somewhat lost in the shuffle of fall book releases, I am taking the time to highlight it as we begin 2011.
Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals has the look and feel of a hymnbook. (Outside the U.S., a paperback edition is also available.) The authors’ intention is that it be used as a ‘common’ resource, i.e. in a group setting. So the readings — not unlike the responsive readings in the back of hymnbooks, if you remember hymnbooks — have a designation for the leader to speak certain lines and the rest of the assembly to respond with other lines.
In point of fact, I think that the majority of copies sold will end up being used devotionally, hence the setup I used to introduce the book. However, my initial premise — people beginning new spiritual disciplines in January — doesn’t fully apply here, as the book’s daily morning readings begin with December and cycle through to the end November. A seven-day cycle of evening readings is also included.
It isn’t possible to fully review a devotional book without personally engaging it, and it is equally difficult to try to review a prayer book or hymn book. Of the book’s 590 pages, I mostly immersed myself in the dozen or so pages that make up the introduction, probably the most contemporary primer on classical liturgy available to the next generation. It briefly explains the origins of liturgies in monastic life, and introduces the idea of the church calendar; with an emphasis on how these routines and dates stand in contrast to the emphases of contemporary society.
The book’s intended audience is not limited to those for whom Common Prayer would represent a first-time purchase of such a resource. “We wanted it to work for folks who have never seen a circus and those who have seen hundreds of them.”
For today, January 1st, the reading begins with a brief paragraph about the role of the Quakers during the U.S. slave trade; some invocational lines; a suggested song, “This Little Light of Mine;” six verses from Psalm 7, taken from the Book of Common Prayer (as are all the Psalm readings); eight verses each from Genesis 12 and John 16, taken from the TNIV (as are all other readings); a quotation from one of the Quaker founders; a place to pray for others and repeat The Lord’s Prayer; a personal prayer for help in answering God’s call on our life; and a collective sentence of benediction.
Though not fully written out, you can also read today’s outline at commonprayer.net
In addition to the basic 366 readings, there are also some extra ones for Holy Week. There is also a selection of songs and special prayers at the end of the book. Although there wasn’t one for the start of a new year, I felt this one, for “major life transition” was appropriate in anticipation of the changes the new year can bring:
Lord, help me now to unclutter my life, to organize myself in the direction of simplicity. Lord teach me to listen to my heart; teach me to welcome change instead of fearing it. Lord, I give you these stirrings inside me. I give you my discontent. I give you my restlessness. I give you my doubt. I give you my despair. I give you all the longs I hold inside. Help me to listen to those signs of change, of growth; help me to listen seriously and follow where they lead through the breathtaking empty space of an open door.