The Four Questions

For the past several months I’ve been intentionally asking intimate questions of friends, acquaintances, and cooperative strangers. The questions are simple but they have led down some deep paths. They are:

  1. What do you think about church?
  2. What do you think about God?
  3. What do you think about Jesus?
  4. What is community and where do you find it?

When I invite people to talk with me about these topics I make it clear that I am not trying to recruit or proselytize, but that I genuinely want to understand what they think and feel about these subjects.

What I’ve learned has been fascinating and, at times, inspired. People express their misgivings about church. The share their difficulties and wounds. They share doubts about being part of something that seems quick to judge and slow to help. Some with church backgrounds see the church as boring or confusing. Some without church backgrounds aren’t sure what it means to be part of a church. Many speak wistfully about having a spiritual community for themselves and their families.

When we turn to talk of God and Jesus the mood lifts and most people who have had negative experiences with church feel differently about God. Though I intentionally do not ask what people “believe,” many confess a belief in a higher power. Many describe God as all-loving, ever-present, and all-powerful. And many say they can’t help but believe in God when they see the beauty of creation or look into the faces of their children or loved ones. People often see God at work in the quirks and coincidences of life.

Most believe Jesus existed, that he was a loving teacher and maybe a prophet. But there are a lot of questions. Was he really God? Did he die and rise again? If so, what happened to him after that? I share that people in the church have been struggling with these questions for ages, and even though we believe we have some answers, there are always great clouds of mystery surrounding Jesus’ divinity.

People unequivocally shared their desire for connection and belonging. Lots of people get this kind of connection through affinity groups. (Many of the people I talked with are part of my wonderful running group, Trail Roots.) One common desire is for community that doesn’t depend on interest or ability or demographics, and many lamented not having a community where they can “go deeper” or explore their spirituality.

Particularly as I work to start this church, I am aware of what I hear people telling me they need:

  • Friendships that go beyond “being polite”
  • Spaces where they can feel safe and “go deeper”
  • A place to explore their spiritual side
  • A community that includes all and doesn’t feel judgy or require you to call yourself a Christian in order to be a part of it

What do you think about church, God, Jesus, and community? Please share in the comment section below. Better yet, find a spiritual friend and talk with them. Need a spiritual friend? That’s what we’re here for. Incarnation is committed to creating deep spiritual community for people who want connection, purpose, and belonging. We’d love to have you join us.

Praying the Daily Office

The Daily Office is patterned off of an ancient practice of prayer that traces back to our Hebrew ancestors. The Old Testament tell us, “Seven times a day I praise you” (Psalm 119:164), which was also taken seriously by many of the first followers of Christ. Eventually, small numbers of women and men fled from towns and cities to live in the wilderness or deserts so they could dedicate their lives to praying and working for God. When some of them gathered together in communities, which we now know as monasteries, they, too, prayed and recited the Psalms seven times a day.

An icon of the Desert Fathers

The first bishops and priests in the early Christian church, many of whom came from monasteries, themselves, recognized that stopping for prayer seven times a day would be hard for ordinary women and men so they combined the various prayers and readings into two principle forms of prayer–Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer. This is what Episcopalians call the Daily Office. The word ‘office’ comes from the Latin word for duty, thus, the Daily Office was our ‘daily duty.’

When the Book of Common Prayer was created, shortly after the Church of England split from the Roman Catholic Church in the 16th century, these forms of prayer were included in it so that individuals and families could use them in their homes if they weren’t able to attend church services where they were said. And, until the 1979 Book of Common Prayer was published, Morning Prayers was considered the main Sunday service.

We prayed together at a bar in South Austin and got some pretty funny looks.

Praying using the Daily Office, whether occasionally or every morning and evening, is a robust way to adopt a personal pattern of prayer. The words are beautiful and evocative and there is great comfort in having language already given when our own words fail us. Moreover, they say what we believe to be true about God and ourselves, but they also help express our desires as people who yearn for connection with God and each other.

Below are a few of our favorite online resources for exploring this practice. Let us know in the comments what you’ve found to be the most helpful for your own prayer life, or if you have questions about how to get started. And, if you are looking for a community to pray with, contact us to find out about Incarnation ATX.

Mission St. Clare has a website and an app that includes each day’s scripture readings, as well as the prayers and psalms for the day. You can find the app in the App Store or on Google Play.

Forward Movement has a number of resources, including the full format of prayer and scripture readings, or just the readings–for when you want to use your actual Book of Common Prayer to say the rest of the prayers.

The Book of Common Prayer, obviously, also has the forms for Morning and Evening Prayer (as well as lots of other prayers). It does not include the readings, but it does list them, starting on p. 934, in the Daily Office Lectionary, so you can look them up in your Bible. An online version of the whole Book of Common Prayer can be found here.