Every weekday morning, I walk into the fellowship hall at church to find four delightful ladies chatting over coffee. I shake their hands and pat their shoulders. They welcome me with smiles and critiques of my thinness (along with doughnuts, their remedy for such a physique). If I yawn even once, they launch into mock interrogations of the previous night’s activities. I have known these ladies for two months only, but already I love them, for their warmth could instill no other feeling.
At the appointed time, we move from coffee and doughnuts in the hall to silence and prayer in the chapel. My four delightful friends form the core of worshipers for daily Morning Prayer, a tradition as old as any other in the Anglican Church. This morning, I was checking my email in my office when they shooed me into the chapel, where my rector asked me to lead our morning’s devotion.
“Lord, open our lips,” I prayed.
“And our mouth shall proclaim your praise,” came the response.
These words, so familiar from years of praying the Daily Office,* tasted fresh and alive with new meaning this morning. Notice the progression these two lines demonstrate. We cannot proclaim God’s praise until God opens us up. God is the cause. Our proclamation is the effect. Indeed, God activates our praise. We do not call God to us when we come together in prayer; God calls us to prayer. God is not standing on the doorstep with hands in pockets waiting to be buzzed in. God is already inside prompting within us the desire to gather. Lord, open our lips. Only when God has done this will we be ready or able to proclaim God’s praise.
These words at the beginning of Morning Prayer remind us that we do not have a boxed-up God or a God carved in a piece of wood. Our God does not exist for our convenience. Our God is not a mute receptacle for our cares and concerns. Our God lives a life of radiance and moves with graceful unpredictability through a world which tries its best to forget who deserves credit for creation. God’s radiant life is complete within that life, but, in a wonderful incongruity, God also moves in and through our own little lives. This movement activates our prayer. This movement gives us the desire to praise God. Our mouth shall proclaim your praise because you, Lord, have deigned to open our lips.
In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis comes to a similar conclusion when discussing our connection with the life of the Trinity: “An ordinary Christian kneels down to say his prayers. He is trying to get into touch with God. But if he is a Christian he knows that what is prompting him to pray is also God: God, so to speak, inside him. But he also knows that all his real knowledge of God comes through Christ, the Man who was God — that Christ is standing beside him, helping him pray, praying for him. You see what is happening. God is the thing to which he is praying — the goal he is trying to reach. God is also the thing inside him which is pushing him on — the motive power.”
God both motivates our prayer and receives it. When we pray, “Lord, open our lips,” we acknowledge that we would not even be entertaining the notion to praise God if God were not prompting us toward such a notion. Thus, our prayer is our ultimate expression of God’s sovereignty, which (from an anthropocentric perspective) is our inability to control God. When we view prayer as our response to God’s movement, we are less likely to see God as the proverbial divine genie-in-a-bottle or ATM. We are more likely to come to God humbly, overwhelmed by the proposition that the Creator of all that is would desire our mouths to proclaim any sort of praise.
The four delightful ladies with whom I share Morning Prayer understand this gift of God’s presence better than most. They are there every day, expressing their joy that our radiant God moves in their midst, activating their praise.
* “The Daily Office” is a technical term for the various daily times of prayer, which grew out of the monastic tradition of praying the hours. In the Episcopal Church, Morning and Evening Prayer are the predominant pieces of the Office, with Noonday prayers and Compline (nighttime prayers) a close second.