A good liturgy gives us words to pray together in key formative moments of our discipleship: gathering to worship, confessing our sin, lamenting our suffering, confessing our faith, celebrating the Eucharist, baptism, marriage, and burying the dead. These patterns of prayer in the context of gathered worship form us over time. The rhythm of call and response, the learned cadence of corporate confession, the intentional pattern of listening when scripture is read aloud reflexively, “thanks be to God”; in these moments we are being shaped to move differently through the world. The Spirit is at work in our midst and these are holy moments. In our patterned prayer, we mean these moments as holy.
But what about all the other “ordinary” moments of life? Isn’t the Spirit also at work in and through the everyday stuff? In families and marriages, in work and play, in aging bodies and childlike wonder? I may recognize the sanctifying effect these daily moments have had on me over time, but it’s rare that I view these moments this way while I’m in the fray. What would it be like to view these as sanctifying moments intended by God for my good and for His glory? How might I pray in such a way that I mean these moments as holy?
Every Moment Holy by Doug Mckelvey is a welcome gift for this very purpose. Here is a prayer book that aims to transform our view of window washing, diaper changing, and hurried meal prep through a liturgical lens.
The first thing that struck me about this book is its physical beauty. The design choices around the materials used, the typesetting and illustration yield a book you want to hold and thumb through. Mckelvey’s poetic prayers and liturgies are paired with beautiful, symbolically rich illustration by Ned Bustard.
There is a playful, self-aware sense of humour to this project. The obligatory legal verbiage around copyright on the first page is written as a responsive reading. I’ve noticed most people chuckle as they flip through the liturgies listed in the table of contents. A liturgy for road rage? For changing diapers? Really?
I’m not sure how much of the humour here is by the author's design and what is imported by most readers. The idea of a liturgy for such common everyday activities is uncomfortable for many - even the liturgically experienced among us. But more than simply the form, it’s the surprisingly raw and honest context for many of these liturgies that prompts a surprised reaction. For the Changing of Diapers (I & II), For Those Feeling the Impulse to Buy, For Those Who Weep Without Knowing Why, For a Moment of Frustration at a Child, For those Facing the Slow Loss of Memory. We may be uncomfortable with the impracticality of reading a responsive prayer before preparing a Christmas dinner (For the Preparation of an Artisanal Meal), but the idea that we should offer up our most common fears and failures and indignities before God in this way touches a nerve on a deeper register. As a family member commented to me after seeing the book, “I don’t know whether to laugh or to cry!”
It's precisely this sort of nerve-poking quality that won me over to the liturgical mode in Christian worship. Praying words that are given to me - be it from the treasure stores of wisdom in Church history or from Scripture - changes me. Not only am I learning to pray, I am learning to see, learning to feel.
What excites me most about this project is the way in which it equips us to speak the truth of the gospel into the everyday stuff of life. In what way does the life, death, and resurrection of Christ effect what I am doing today? How does this truth affect the argument I had with my spouse, the frustrations at my job, the nagging pain of a chronic illness? Of course, the cross and resurrection of Christ changes everything. But I struggle to see it in those moments. And even in my awareness that God is at work here, what should I do? How do I pray? I have found that the practice of “gospel fluency” often hits a wall in the simple act of what to say and how to say it. It is here that Every Moment Holy provides a practical toolset for “speaking the truth in love” in the normal everyday context that we all inhabit. These liturgies continually reframe the ordinary context of their intended use through a gospel lens. It’s not enough to know the right answers. We need to speak the truth. We need to hear truth spoken to us.
I received my copy just days before heading out for a weekend getaway with my wife. I packed the book along in hopes of putting several of the liturgies to use as we set aside a few days to rest and reflect. Nothing extraordinary was in our travel plans. A quiet weekend away. A chance to talk, take walks by the ocean, drink good coffee, and eat good food.
We awoke early the first day. The fall blanket of clouds pulled back to reveal an uncharacteristically warm and sunny Pacific Northwest morning. We strolled the quiet boardwalk along the ocean, morning coffee in hand. Pausing to lean on the railing and drink in the morning light dancing on calm waters below, we read the liturgy For the Ritual of Morning Coffee:
Meet me, O Christ,
In this stillness of morning
Move me, O Spirit
To quiet my heart
Mend me, O Father,
From yesterday’s harms…
Ned Bustard’s striking illustration of a phoenix rising from a coffee mug sits opposite the words. Yes, this is a daily ritual of rebirth for many of us, is it not?
Next, we pray through A Liturgy for A Husband & Wife at Start of Day, a short prayer, spoken in unison.
We stare silently into the diamond dancing waters below. A loon appears on the surface of the water like some magic trick and drifts casually in the distance.
Now with the sun above the tree line, we close by reading A Liturgy of Praise to the King of Creation:
Our names for you
O Lord, have been too few…
We read aloud a declaration of Christ’s Lordship over all things, a sort of cataloging of the scope of his Kingship: King over snow, sunlight and storms. King of Autumn, Grain King, Wine King, King of Canyons. On and on, we name Him as lord of all this and more in a building crescendo of praise.
...You are The Horse Lord,
The Crag King,
Lord of the Bees,
King of the Walruses,
Commander of Rhinos…
At “Commander of Rhinos”, I lost it. I burst out laughing. The thought of it was just too funny. Too fun. Somewhere there is a 5000lb beast that looks like something out of a little boys sketchbook playing in a patch of mud for the fun of it. And Christ is his Commander. It’s a wonderful and hilarious thought.
We make it through to the closing “Amen”, still smiling and suppressing giggles. It was warm enough to take your jacket off. This was a holy moment.
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