The English poet and Anglican priest, John Donne, once penned that ‘No man [sic] is an island, entire unto itself; every man [sic] is piece of the continent.’ In this phrase, Donne is highlight an important reality for our lives; we exist amid a myriad of relationships. In fact, if we look at scripture, we see this even more profoundly. We are created to be a people, and our Christian lives are to be lived amid the tapestry of relationships and structures of the Body of Christ. Yes, I can point to myself and say, “I am a Christian”, or” I am an Anglican”. These statements may be true in some respects, but it would be more appropriate to say, “I belong to the body of Christ”, or “I belong to the Anglican community”. My faith is not an isolated island in which I reside alone; it is a part of a wider body. Dietrich Bonhoeffer once wrote that as we are bound to Christ, we are necessarily bound to each other.
We sometimes forget this reality. In a ‘me-first’ society such as the one in which we reside, it becomes easy to centre our faith solely within ourselves. Yet this sometimes creates an uneasy reality for us. As we try to mediate an individual spiritual life, as opposed to a common spiritual life, we may find this creates questions that we feel ill equipped to answer. For example, have you ever yearned for a deeper connection with God, but have struggled to figure out how to accomplish that? Have you ever questioned why others seem to be ‘closer’ to God than you feel? Have you ever felt disconnected with the life of the Church, even though you sit surrounded by other people? How can these things be?
What if your life of faith is not just about you? What if our Christian life is not just about ‘me + Jesus’? What if God created you not to be a Christian person, but to part of a Christian people? This necessarily changes how we view ourselves, our spiritual heritage, and the spiritual habits we engage in. In fact, this communal emphasis lies at the heart of scriptural witness. For example, in his article titled “Salvation; Individual or Communal”, Lloyd Ratzlaff argues “It is unthinkable that a Jew then would have appealed to his personal justification as having some meaning unrelated to his being a member of the covenant community” (Ratzlaff 1976, 111). Life with God mean life in the community of faith. Within my own tradition, I imagine that it was for specific reason that Thomas Cranmer named his liturgical opus ‘The Book of Common Prayer.’ Since our beginning, and fundamental to all our liturgical texts, Anglican have mediated their spirituality through participation in a joint –common – spiritual life.
So how do we live out this common spiritual life? How can you participate in the life and activity of the Church as you go through the regular routines of your week? Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes, “Common life under the Word begins with common worship at the beginning of each day” (Bonhoeffer, Life Together, 42). The recitation of Morning Prayer is a prime example of our common spiritual life. Rather than a mere form of personal prayer, the office of Morning Prayer is an ecclesial activity; one engages in an activity occurring in the church throughout all time and space. I may sit alone in my office as I say Morning Prayer, but this does not discount the deeper reality; I participate in the prayers of the church, and I add my voice to the company of the faithful. I do not say Morning Prayer, I join the prayers of the Church, and we say Morning Prayer together.
So, if those yearnings above – for a deeper connection with God, a desire to be ‘closer’ to God, a stronger connection to the church – have ever been something that you have experienced, I would encourage you to take up the discipline of Morning Prayer. Lend your voice to the church’s prayer by allowing the language of the church to form your prayers. You just may find that your own faith and prayer life begins to flourish as you participate in common prayer.