Thursday, May 21, 2015

Common Prayer

   by Jennifer Arnold

When I was asked to write for Living Nonviolence, I was told the blog posts “don't have to be about big events or big ideas but trying to make nonviolence more accessible and real to our readers.” Currently I live in the “middle of nowhere,” rural North Carolina, so I feel pretty far removed from a lot of big world events. However, in many little ways I find myself trying to “live nonviolence” where I am.

As referenced in my last blog, a little over a month ago I had the privilege of marching from Selma to Montgomery with the National Park Service in remembrance of the historic march which took place 50 years ago. Through this experience I met many amazing individuals, but I have built an enduring friendship with one person in particular. On the last day of the march this friend looked at me with determination in his eyes and told me, “I need you to pray for me when we leave here.” It wasn’t the typical passive prayer request. He was adamant. And so I purchased him a copy of Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals by Shane Claiborne, Jonathon Wilson-Hargrove, and Enuma Okoro which I already owned myself. Ever since I first received my copy of the book, I had wanted someone with whom to pray. We could be prayer buddies.

In order to understand the significance of this act for me, you must understand that my religious upbringing was neither very liturgical, nor regularly shared. I was raised to think of prayer as an individual act between myself and God. Liturgical prayer, in my mind, was not personal and therefore less valuable. However, as my friend and I pray together out of the book, it is changing the way I think about prayer. I value the repetition of the words night after night. They are becoming part of who I am and I’ve begun sharing the prayers with other friends as well. As more of us share the prayers together the words are becoming part of who we are as a community. Maybe this is why the word “common” is the root of “community”.

It reminds me of the Friday morning prayer I participated in during college. A group of LGBTQ students, faculty, and allies would wake up early and gather to pray a liturgical prayer for ourselves, our campus, and our world. Praying together gave us a unified sense of language and a reminder of a purpose beyond ourselves. We built a stronger community through this shared time together. Three years later I am rediscovering these same experiences by praying through the book of Common Prayer with my friends. To pray in unison, all parties must be present and listening to each other. This changes us – as individuals and as a community – from the inside out.

In no way is this revelation new or earth-shattering. In fact, it is barely a revelation at all, but more of a personal rediscovering of an ancient truth. One that we all share together. And so I will close today in sharing this part of the common prayer with you and your community.

May the Lord bless us and keep us from all harm; and may God lead us to eternal life. Amen.

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