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On memory, a father’s love, and practices of the heart (Reflections on Evensong)

A few weeks ago I was speaking with a woman in our congregation about the joys and sorrows of caring for an aging parent. Her father has Alzheimers, which means of course severe memory loss. Though it is very difficult to see your father’s mind slowly fade away, she did mention to me that she often has special moments with him nevertheless. Though he is not very responsive in conversation, she’ll often say when leaving after a visit, “Goodbye. I love you, Dad” to which he always replies “I love you too, dear.” This is muscle memory from our most important muscle – our heart. His brain is no longer functioning at the level to sustain the conversation, but she knows that he loves her, and he can even communicate that when he can no longer communicate much else. He’s practiced saying “I love you” to his daughter so many times now, that is ingrained in his subconscious. (Side note: there are many heartwarming videos on the internet about this…see this one)

At our Evensong services, we’ve been practicing saying “I love you” to God. We use three simple prayers that help shape our lives around the Gospel: A prayer of preparation for worship (known as the “Collect for Purity”) a prayer of confession, and a prayer of thanksgiving. It is our hope that by saying these week after week, the truths behind the words will sink into our hearts.

Prayer of Preparation for Worship (Collect for Purity)

Almighty God, to whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid: Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love you, and worthily magnify your holy Name; through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Prayer of Confession

Most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We are truly sorry and we humbly repent. For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ, have mercy on us and forgive us; that we may delight in your will, and walk in your ways, to the glory of your Name. Amen.

Prayer of Thanksgiving

Our great God and Father, we give you humble thanks for your goodness and loving-kindness to us and to all people. We praise you for making us, sustaining us, and blessing us in every way. Most of all we thank you for your great love you showed to us and the world in Jesus Christ, for the means of grace, and for the hope of glory. Help us to be aware of your mercy, that with truly thankful hearts we may fully praise you not only with our lips but with our lives, by giving our selves to your service, and walking with you in holiness every day through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom with you and the Holy Spirit be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.

As we pray these, we are slowly writing the Gospel on our hearts. The ancient Christian phrase Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi (the law of prayer, the law of belief) means that not only does what we believe influence the way we pray, but the opposite is true as well: the way we pray influences what we believe.

Do you find it sometimes hard to pray? Not sure what to say to God? These prayers (while never substituting for our own heartfelt conversation with God), can deepen and enrich our prayer life with good and true and beautiful words. In this season of Advent, we want to prepare our hearts for God’s coming – these prayers that have been said by Christians around the world for centuries, are a time-tested way of doing just that.

There’s one more Evensong service left on December 20th! Don’t miss it!

~ Adam

p.s. have you attended Evensong services this year? Let us know your thoughts and reflections in the comments!

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