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During COVID, when I still lived in Brooklyn, my niece took me bird-watching in Prospect Park. It was warbler time, the days were lengthening, and the migrants were resting in the Park. We went just before sunset and stayed into the dusk.
Eventually my niece advised me, “Don’t look so hard. Relax your look, use open eyes.” I had to stop investigating, stop inspecting. Passively, I had to let the birds appear to me, instead of me discovering them. And that evening I did add one to my life-list.
I read the Bible every morning like I’m bird-watching. My daily reading is not Bible study. It’s part of my morning prayers. I use the Daily Office, which has three Bible readings. Not right off. First you pray some things, then you work your way through the Psalter (it takes me two months), and then you read the lessons. It is those lessons that I read with passive eyes and an open mind—an almost passive mind. And like birds in the branches, they often reveal themselves to me.
The scriptures follow a two-year Daily Lectionary, which is independent of the more familiar three-year Common Lectionary for the Lord’s Day. The Daily Lectionary has three readings: Old Testament, Epistle, and Gospel. Between them I repeat two Canticles. When in the US, I use the Benedictus and the Magnificat. When I’m in Canada I use two songs of Isaiah. (I don’t know why). On Sundays I say the Te Deum and Gloria.
I have been praying the Daily Office for thirty years. I found being a pastor very difficult, and I don’t know how anyone survives in it without some form of daily prayer. It saved my life. First, I tried Protestant forms, like Oswald Chambers, but it took too much thinking and made me feel worse. “My utmost” was too low “for His highest.”
At a conference in Toronto a Ukrainian Orthodox priest advised me to pray with the church, even while alone. So I took up the Daily Office. I don’t like being accused of being a closet-Anglican, so I began with the Roman form, which I learned from some wonderful Carmelites. I did that for a few years, but I tired of the interruptions for the saints and the readings from the Apocrypha. I gave in to the Book of Common Prayer, and I’ve been using it ever since.
So I am praying along with millions of other Christians throughout the world, including at least two of my best friends in the Reformed Church. The same lessons, the same prayers — even by myself, I am not praying alone.
Daily, I am in the Word. Not researching, not studying, not investigating. I do all that later in the day. Not even deeply meditating, not doing Lectio Divina, although that sometimes happens. I’m just letting the Bible speak to me. Sometimes I notice new things, but often I don’t — although I’m always being reminded of essential things. If I don’t see birds that day, well, the leaves and branches are enough. There is no doubt that I have learned many things from reading scripture in this manner, things I would not have learned through a more purposed Bible study. But the more important net effect, after three decades, is to make me belong to the Word, in an attitude of prayer, so that I feel at home in the great conversation between God and the church, and me and God.
I do not at all discount Bible study and investigative reading for the purposes of preaching and teaching. The difference is between driving a car and riding a bus. When you ride a bus someone else is driving. You can observe other passengers. You can watch out the windows. When you drive you have to be in charge and you look forward, even into the mirror, intentionally and even defensively.
Most Protestants prefer cars to buses (yes!), and read the Bible for information and argument. We even like to be in charge of our prayers, suspecting that formal prayers are less of the Holy Spirit. The Daily Office is like riding a bus of daily prayer. I don’t have to think too much. My mind is working differently. I let the page tell me what to pray next. ( I do add my own intercessions at the end).
After riding this bus for a while, you begin to experience the scripture as an open, inviting, and generous home with different voices, often contrasting and even contradictory, but together in an attitude of prayer and hospitality. Riding the bus home.
Good morning! Thank you.
Thanks for this ride along and for “scripture as an open, inviting, and generous home with different voices.”
What an apt metaphor. Thank you!
Yes, thanks for this witness to the ride on that long bus. As an elder, when discovering how many had no daily pattern at all of Scripture and prayer, I often recommend Philip Reinder’s Seeking God’s Face as a helpful introduction to start a ride of reading through (at least part of) all the psalms twice a year, and (sections of) Genesis through Revelation once a year, with his own rich prayers.
I often recommended that Reinders book, and then bought a bunch of copies to give to parishioners.
Thanks, Daniel. I always appreciate your posts. This kind of Scripture reading is like spending time with your spouse companionably but not talking. Just being together. I use Seeking God’s Face. At first it seemed too routine, too directed, almost too easy. Over time I’ve come to appreciate the discipline of this kind of guided immersion. My devotions are more consistent because of it.
Thanks for this!
Loved this! Thanks Daniel.
Thanks for this, Dan. Great stuff. And your observation on Oswald Chambers was itself worth the price of admission!
Ah, the journey with text. thank you for sharing your thoughts, which brought to mind this journey poem by Herman Ward.
I wait for a poem
The way a man on a street corner
After midnight in the dead of winter
Waits for a bus. It is overdue,
Still he is sure the bus will come.
One appears but it has the wrong number.
A duplicate follows.
His frustration mounts. Like in a poem.
At last, the right one dissolves into view.
It stops. He boards. The driver is sleepy.
The bus is warm inside. Like in a poem.
He settles into it. It will be a good ride uptown.
In a half-hour he will be home.
Like in a poem.
Herman Ward (1915 – 2006)
Emily, did you know I lived part of my life in West Sayville?
Daniel, I did not. So I’m imagining you might have known Fred & Martha Style. My first marriage was to their son Fred Jr; we met at Calvin. Small world, filled with love & learning. Thanks again for writing your piece. Nothing like the bus & poems! And Protestants as individual drivers of cars, which is prompting me to share another poem. Just published in Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer’s newest book All the Honey, its own set of prayers, in my view.
Traveling the Same Road
You idiot, is what you say
to the driver five cars ahead of you
on the two-lane road that winds
through the river canyon.
There is no passing lane,
and you feel the crush
of the minutes as they rub against each other
while the white SUV five cars ahead
does not pull over
in the wide spot on the road
where all conscientious slow drivers know
to pull over to let the other drivers pass.
Idiot, you grumble, and miss
any beauty outside the window—
red rock cliffs and diamonding streams—
focused as you are on the speedometer,
the brake. Once it was you,
a girl of fifteen, who drove so cautiously
the winding roads to church
on a Sunday morning, that first day
with your driver’s permit.
And who was it in the long line
behind you who called the police
to report a drunk driver?
When the police pulled you over,
not one but two squad cars
with blaring red and blue lights,
you didn’t cry when the officers laughed—
there was warmth in their relief
to find you were not drunk, but young.
No, you cried after they walked away,
cried all the way to mass.
Bless them, the irate ones,
the ones who fume in the back,
the ones who think furious thoughts.
That’s right. Bless yourself,
you the livid one who even now
is hurling names at the other travelers
on the same paved path.
Settle in. Sixteen miles under the speed limit
will give you time to think about
how we’re all traveling
the same winding road
no matter which route we take—
all of us pilgrims journeying toward
a generous, elusive grace.
—Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer, pages 74 – 75 in her new book All the Honey, 2023
Well, that’s an excellent poem. I’m one who fumes. And Beth was friends with my little sister, and I knew Lou Ann and i remember when she died, up at Woodie’s, and the funeral.
No, but Isn’t that where Cal Seerveld is from too?
Yes, I knew his delightful parents, Lester and Letitia, and his little brother Wesley, and his cousins.
Lester had the fish market that Jake Klaasen took over. I believe that Dewey Westra was also from West Sayville.