May the peace of the Lord Christ go with you, wherever he may send you. May he guide you through the wilderness and protect you through the storm. May he bring you home rejoicing at the wonders he has shown you. May he bring you home rejoicing once again into our doors.
We pray this every morning as part of our team's rhythm of prayer. It's the final benediction from the Celtic Daily Prayer's morning office, developed by the Northumbria Community.
We know these words by heart, and as we close our prayer time every morning we look each person in the eye and pronounce this blessing over one another. It's a sending out, a daily commissioning, with the person of Christ.
Though routine, these words have become so meaningful and powerful to me.
I first encountered them when they were prayed over me on my visit here in June 2013. I was coming to meet this community and to discern whether moving here might be the next step God had for me. I remember being struck by the beauty of the words and feeling the peace of Christ so near.
A few months later, they were prayed over me as I sat in a ring of people praying in an upper room in east London. We had finished our orientation training, and we were being sent out. While the rest of my team was returning to Scotland, I was going back to the States to apply for my visa. I remember feeling so anxious, so worried my visa wouldn't be accepted. I remember having this deep longing to come through their doors again, and I clung to those words.
As time has gone on, I've found refuge in other lines. I've held on to the hopeful lines about God's presence in the wilderness and protection through the storm - longing and anticipating and clinging to the promise that he will show me many wonders, even in the difficult parts of my journey.
And because it's a benediction, we've prayed it over many others - guests who have come for dinner, people who have joined our church, members of our community who are away.
This is a powerful part of liturgy for me. The words begin to take on unique meaning as I pray them in different places, in the company of different people, and at different times. In this way, liturgy isn't stale. It's fresh. It's growing. It's acquiring new meaning, layer upon layer. Its significance deepens with time and memories. Sometimes when I'm at a loss for what to pray, I pray liturgy. Words so faithful to me, which remind me and draw my mind towards the faithfulness of God.
We don't do this liturgy stuff so much in my evangelical Protestant church tradition. It seems to me that over time, Protestant evangelicals have kind of fled from the routine, the liturgical, and the traditional. Perhaps in allegiance to Scripture over tradition. Perhaps for fear that these words will become just words, something we get stuck in, and just do out of habit or obligation. Perhaps because we fear liturgical prayers are insincere or un-living.
But in my journey, I've found liturgy to be different. For me, liturgy is living and life-giving. There's safety here - in the words and truths of the faithful, handed down over generations. These words aren't dependent on my emotions or feelings. In liturgy, I pray truth, the re-purposed words of the Scriptures, no matter what I'm feeling. These words bring me out of myself and back to the truth, to the center, to Jesus. They help me to pray when I don't know what to pray, or when I don't want to pray. There's prayers for marking different times of life, transitions, or seasons - for celebrating or lamenting.
You might consider giving the whole liturgy thing a try, especially during this season of Lent. There's of course many different liturgies available, but the Celtic Daily Prayers might be a really great place to start. Although unconventional and pretty new [especially in comparison to Catholic or even Anglican liturgy], they are written in fairly accessible language and draw from the very earthy and embodied tradition of Celtic Christianity.
You could have a look at the Celtic Daily Prayer book, download some prayers from their website, or you might just enjoy experimenting with a simple "caim" prayer - a Celtic prayer of encircling. In true Celtic fashion, there's a physical element to this in order to engage your body, mind, soul, and spirit: as you pray, use your right index finger to draw a circle around yourself to symbolize the encircling love of God. This might not suit you though, and you may prefer to just imagine yourself encircled by God as you pray. If praying for an individual within a group, you could have the group encircle the person.
The words of the prayer are simple and adaptable. You can find words to different versions of Celtic caim prayers, or you can create your own. The basic premise is to pray for God's encircling - for his love, peace, and protection in, and discouragement, danger, and turmoil out.
Circle [name], Lord. Keep comfort near and discouragement afar. Keep peace within, keep turmoil without. Keep protection near and danger afar. Keep hope within, keep despair without. Keep light within and darkness afar. Keep peace within and anxiety without. The eternal Father, Son, and Holy Spirit shield [name] on every side. Amen.
How do you pray? What's been your experience of liturgy? Have you taken up any Lenten disciplines?
[By the way, you can read my first post on liturgy from a few years ago by clicking here.]