Today began our new fall schedule which includes a Communion Service at 7:15 a.m. and Compline at 7:30 p.m. The idea, borrowed from monks (who borrowed it from Scripture,) is that we begin and end our day with prayer, calling out to God, communing with God's people. We began Communion this morning with the words of the Psalmist... "Oh Lord, Open our lips, and our mouths will declare your praise." (Ps. 51)
We will end the day with words from Psalm 4... "I will both lie down and sleep in peace; For you alone, o Lord, make me lie down in safety."
Most of the formation work of the church, any church, (Protestant churches, at least,) is active and engaging. It requires prayer, thought and action which, often, are synonymous with each other. In our Sunday morning worship we sing songs and hear God's word proclaimed through the sermon. In our Bible Studies and small groups we engage with Scripture and with each other actively, almost always aware of what is happening, always with an eye toward benefit. In other words, it doesn't take much effort to see and understand what is (or isn't) happening during these times.
But in our more contemplative times, such as Communion and Compline, the "benefits" are rarely seen or felt immediately. What we "get out of" or "put into" these times takes a back seat to our simple participation in the words and rituals of God and God's people. In a way, the act of showing up during these times is all that is required. It is saying to God and to the world, symbolically with our bodies and participation, "I am present." Whether wiping the sleep out of our eyes at the beginning of the day, or wiping them exhaustion out of them at the end, we are here.
There is another way of "knowing" and "learning" that occurs during these times, a different kind of benefit altogether from what we usually expect from "church life." Because of this, many people find these times difficult and dismiss them as being for "those" kinds of people-- mystics, contemplatives, weirdos. (We know how you look at us. :) ) Yet Spiritual Formation almost ALWAYS occurs in the context of community. And in our context, it occurs in a VERY diverse community of mystics, evangelicals, charismatics, liberals, conservatives, Arminians, Calvinists, Open Theists, etc., etc. When each of these sit next to each other reuglarly in a circle and participates, together, in the words of life-- "Oh Lord, open our mouths and our lips will declare your praise,"-- something special happens.
It just may take the rest of our lives, maybe longer, to understand what that "something special" is.