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February 11, 2004
Today's eMo is the introduction to a forthcoming book of meditations on the lectionary texts for the Daily Office, Year One, coming from Morehouse Publishing in the fall.


We were the early risers in the family, my father and I. I would hear him first, from upstairs in my room: the clatter of tea kettle and teacups. I would put on my sneakers without any socks, pull my red jacket over my pajamas and go downstairs. We would go outside then, to look at the garden, he with his hope, I with only my eyes and ears. We made the circuit of the vegetables and flowers: “Beans are coming,” he would say, and poke around the roots of a plant with the hoe. I would nod, happy just to be with him, walking carefully around the edge of the garden, feeling the delicious squish of water that had soaked my sneakers through. The plants were different each day: more leaves, taller, a deeper green as time went on, the little flowers, the tiny fruit.

After the tour of the garden, we went inside. Soon the fragrant tea filled the china cups, and slices of toast were ready for their coats of orange marmalade. The clink of cutlery against china was the only sound; my father and I were not especially talkative. Besides, he was busy with the stack of books that sat next to his chair: his prayer book, his Bible, his book of daily meditations. He was in prayer while we ate our breakfast. He was reading the same service of Morning Prayer that I now read. The sameness of everything anchored me comfortably then. It anchors me still.

Later, in seminary, the same: Morning Prayer with the same people every day, Evening Prayer sung with beauty and dignity, linking the love of learning with the loveliness of music and text in a marriage that has lasted longer than many. We sat in rows in the chapel choir, a thousand doubts about our futures, about our ability, about our worthiness all silenced, for a moment, in the beauty of holiness. O, God make speed to save us, we sang. O Lord , make haste to help us. Over the decades that followed we were saved and helped. Oh, yes. Many times.

Sunday evenings at St. Clement’s in Hell’s Kitchen: for the first several years, we were in the shabby parish hall around a long table, crooked candles in a motley assortment of holders lighting our prayer books. Old and young, homeless and housed, crazy and nominally sane, we gathered for that same helping and saving. It was easy to teach this assortment of beloved oddballs the ancient words and plainsong tunes. Back and forth we went in the old way, Phos hilaron and Magnificat and Nunc dimittis. Let us bless the Lord, I would sing at the end, and they would sing back to me, Thanks be to God. I sing it myself, now, often, when I am along, and I see and hear them again. How I miss them! I can weep thinking about them. They only come for the meal afterward, some people said. And it was true that many of them needed the meal. But they all could have gotten it without coming to prayer. They needed the prayer as well.

Later on, we had a beautiful new chapel. Stained glass windows. New chairs. New organ. A fine altar. Perfect lighting. The evening sun slanted through the windows. Sometimes the clip-clop of a horse’s hooves sounded outside; the city’s livery stables were down the street from St. Clement’s. Now we sat on our new chairs and held our new prayer books, lit the new candles in their elegant new candlesticks. But we were the same, me and my congregation: still funny, the crazy still crazy, the frail a little frailer, all of us a little older.

Now I read the Daily office in my office at home. Its paneled walls are soft yellow, with sheer white curtains at the window and tall shelves of books. I have a wonderful Office Book, containing all the readings and all the psalms and all the collects and the services for morning, noon, evening and compline. All in one book. No more juggling Bibles. Or sometimes I use the service at No juggling there, either.

When I finish Morning Prayer, I send an email to a few hundred friends who have banded together to pray, each of us in his or her own place, at his or her own time. Let us bless the Lord, I type, and press “send.” Into the mysterious ether it flies, and soon the answers begin to appear in my inbox. Thanks be to God, says one after another. And my dad. And my seminary classmates, living and dead. And the Fathers of the Church, and its forgotten Mothers. And now, you. Thanks be to God.
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