LINK TO PDF VERSION (Good for saving or printing out)
In his book, Black Elk Speaks (MJF Books, 1932), the ancient Oglala Sioux Indian chief
and shaman tells the tragic story of his people. As a youth he hunted the buffalo that
seemed to be endless in number on the plains. Their enemies were other plains Indians
with whom they had long-running feuds. The world changed with the coming of the
But he also tells his own story. When he was 11 he fell desperately ill. He lay almost
comatose in a high fever for 10 days. He dreamed fantastic dreams. When his fever
broke he could not forget the dreams. Finally he went to see an uncle who was a shaman.
The uncle recognized a special call on the boy and began apprenticing him as a shaman.
Eventually he made his vision quest. In his vision quest he saw the world as it ought to
be, in symbolic form. It became for him his guiding light, the anchor of his integrity, for
from then on he was to form his own life and that of his village after this vision. He
spent his life doing that, and even as the world shifted with the coming of the white man,
and the last of the free-ranging buffalo were killed in Canada, he held with an iron will to
that inner vision that was to form the outer one. The inner and the outer in harmony—
this was the substance of the holy life.
Though we do not practice the vision quest tradition as the Oglala do, the same view of
integrity as the harmony of the inner and the outer worlds holds for us as well. Take the
lessons for today and you see how embedded in Scripture is this value. Isaiah quotes
God as demanding justice or sacrifice is of no spiritual good. The psalmist assures us
that the light of God will shine on the upright but the wicked will perish. Paul in this
letter to the Corinthian Church teaches us that God’s spirit within us is the guiding light
of the Christian life. Jesus teaches us that inside we are salt and light, meant to change
the world to conform to an inner truth–the truth of God in Christ. The spiritual life can
be described as the discipline of seeking harmony between the inner and the outer life.
Now in our tradition this is not a slavish exercise in self-dominance, though effort is
required. Good old Ben Franklin, whom the world loves to love, tried this approach. He
defined his famous 13 virtues and decided to tackle one a week until he had them all
mastered. Of course, that didn’t work, for when he changed his focus at the beginning of
a new week he found that the old habits with regard to the first virtue resurfaced! No,
this is different. It is a progressive discipline in surrender to the Spirit of God, who is the
source of all inner and outer truth and virtue, and that by power of the Spirit we are
formed bit by bit into an image not of our own making, but of God’s, living into a
harmony of inner and outer by surrender to the Great Source of integrity.
Now, this sermon is part of our series of sermons on our Anglican heritage. In specific,
this is Volume 2 on the Book of Common Prayer. How, then, is the BCP a tool for
holiness? How does it create an inner world that can harmonize with our outer world?
The answer to this goes to the heart of the spirituality of the Anglican tradition as
expressed in the Prayer Book. Our study takes us back to the roots of the monastic
movement in England in the 6th century. When Augustine of Canterbury was sent by
Pope Gregory the Great he was, actually, a Benedictine monk. The Benedictine tradition
of monasticism had established itself over all of western Europe as the most workable of
the models for the religious life. Gregory himself was a Benedictine.
Benedictine religious held to a three-part vow. No, it is not poverty, chastity and
obedience, that is Franciscan. It is:
- Obedience: Benedict taught that obedience to one’s superior was obedience to
God, the necessary setting aside of my ego’s choices to surrender to the leadership
of someone greater.
- Stability: Benedictine religious aim to live in the same monastery all their lives,
without moving around, for God is no more present or absent elsewhere than here.
- Conversion of life: The other two aim to effect this vow, the vow of the slow
transformation of life into the image of Christ, seen in oneself and in all others.
We could say this is a discipline of integrity, the harmony of inner and outer
Benedict also taught that religious men and women should have a balanced rhythm of
work, study and prayer. The discipline of this rhythm would create within the members
of the community the foundation for conversion of life. They prayed 7 times a day, had
chores for which they were responsible, and spent daily time in study of Scripture, the
Rule of St. Benedict, and other religious writings. The inner vision of the community of
God was lived out in the outer community of the faithful.
Monasteries were often at the heart of the religious life of the towns and villages of
England, and some of the rhythm of prayer was shared with the secular population.
Especially the rites that became Morning and Evening Prayer became times when
townspeople joined the monastic community in prayer. Now the Anglican spirit is a
mixture of continental and Irish spirituality, but these ideals were the foundation of both.
Except for the vow of stability that had a different sort of expression in Ireland, the
process of conversion by a rhythm of prayer, study and action goes to the heart of what it
means to be an Anglican Christian.
Our Book of Common Prayer sets out such a rhythm. In addition to weekly gathering for
the Eucharist, as Sarah shared with you two weeks ago, the services of Morning Prayer,
Noon Prayers, Evening Prayer and Compline give us four times a day to pray. Morning
and Evening Prayer, also known as Matins and Vespers, are set up to include readings
from the Daily Office Lectionary. You can do the whole thing online like I do at
www.bcponline.org/ and clicking on either Morning or Evening Prayer. You need to
read the instructions (rubrics, in small italicized letters) to guide you through, or come see
any of the Clergy, Linda Shay or Mary Harrell and we can help you.
You can get the daily office lectionary for the Revised Common Lectionary that we use
at www.satucket.com/lectionary/ and clicking on one of the Scripture version links for
the week in which we are. For example, this is the 5th Sunday after the Epiphany, so you
would click on either the NRSV or the RSV link after this week and you will get a listing
of links to the psalms for morning and evening prayer and the lessons, Old Testament,
Epistle and Gospel. You can always look up the references for the Episcopal Daily
Office Lectionary as printed in the Prayer Book beginning on p. 936. These rites will
take about 20 minutes.
However, there is a shortcut. If you will turn to p. 137 you will see a service of Morning
Prayer on one page. There are one-page rites for Noonday Prayers, Early Evening
(Vespers) and just before you go to bed (Compline.) The scripture verses provided can
always be substituted with lessons from the Daily Office Lectionary, and there is space
for you to insert your own prayers, either extemporaneous or from the section on Prayers
and Thanksgivings from the back of the Prayer Book, beginning with an index of them on
The whole book of the Psalms is included in the Prayer Book. We use it on Sundays in
worship, but you can use it as well. The Psalms are the hymnal of ancient Israel, and of
many conservative Jewish movements today, and in good Jewish fashion, they are a
reflection of every human emotion before God. Taken as this they are rich source of
prayer material. Reading them in a regular pattern forces us out of the temptation to pick
and choose and only read the ones we want to or like, and therefore it forces us to face
our unwanted or unlikeable, yet very real emotions and bring them before God.
If you open to p. 585 you will find Psalm 1. You will also notice that Psalm 1 opens
Book 1 of the Psalms. There are five such books, and much study has been done on the
arrangement of the books and why, but that need not concern us now. Directly under that
you will see in italics, “Morning Prayer, Day 1.” If you will, on your chosen Day 1,
begin with this psalm and read them until you find the heading, “Evening Prayer, Day 1,”
and then in the evening read those psalms. On Day 2 do the same, etc. You will read
through all the psalms in 30 days. This follows the old Benedictine monastic tradition.
Many people make a discipline of reading the psalms appointed for each day, and to good
What is that effect? The repetition of the words and their ideas within you have a
forming effect on your life. They force you to surrender to the discipline, creating an
inner reality which you begin, then, to live into your outer world, harmonizing the two.
There is another dimension without which this would be just self-induced brainwashing.
The inner world formed in you is not that of a dogma, but that of the Spirit of a Person,
Someone who wants desperately to be in relationship with you in a conscious and
intentional way. That person is already in relationship with you by your creation and
continued being—the source of your own existence, the ground of all being, the one we
call God. Without that essential mystery at the heart of all this discipline there is no point
to it all. It is all merely self-delusion. Herein is the source of the Christian Vision, and
like Black Elk, the living into it is a lifelong endeavor, that the Kingdom of God might
come on earth, First in the formation of your own inner world after the Spirit of Christ,
and then the harmonizing of that inner world with your outer world, which is God’s