Praying among the embers
Throughout the present pandemic, I find myself leaning on the Book of Common Prayer like never before. I’m mining its collects for words to pray when I cannot seem to form my own. I’m observing its calendar of feasts and fasts well beyond just Sundays, to midweek days like Rogation and Ascension. I’m praying the daily office (the rhythm and format of daily prayer) with a new consistency, and as a result, reading more scripture aloud with more people more days of the week than I ever have before. This rhythm feeds and fuels a hunger for more prayer, more community, more scripture, more Jesus. Which means that, for the first time ever, I’m paying attention to yet another obscure Anglican calendar observance: Ember Days. Ember Days take place four times a year (one for each season) on a Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday. The origin is obscure, but likely has nothing to do with the remains of a fire. Instead, these days take their name from a transliteration of the Latin Quatuor tempora, which simply means “four times.” Ember Days are days set aside four times a year for fasting and prayer, and they particularly focus on the mission of the church. But we are now living in our own ember days which have everything to do with the remains of a fire. Our cities smolder with outrage and grief over centuries of racial injustice, punctuated most recently by the murder of George Floyd. People are dying in the streets, dying in nursing homes, dying in hospital beds. People have lost their jobs, can’t feed their kids, can’t pay their rent. People are scared, angry, traumatized, and grieving. And these literal ember days call us to our liturgical Ember Days of fasting and prayer for the mission of the church. They call us to open our holy book—the Bible is no prop—and to read and pray and proclaim its powerful words of life and judgment, comfort and transformation, for a hurting world.
They call us to lament and repent and confess the church’s sad legacy of oppression, and the sin of racism and indifference that lurks in our own hearts.
They call us to plead for courageous leaders who will speak the truth in love, who will reject the allure of political power and take up the cross, who will exercise wisdom and protect the vulnerable as they plan for re-opening. And so for the first time, Incarnation will observe Ember Days this year. We invite you to lean into this Anglican practice with us and with other Anglicans across North America. What fast might you take on—perhaps social media, alcohol, television, or lunch on Wednesday/Friday/Saturday? What habit of prayer and scripture might you add during these days? What voices and perspectives might you center to help you pray with fresh insight for the mission of the church?
And will you pray for Incarnation's leadership: for Liz, Josie, Beth, and me? Will you pray for our postulants (those in the ordination process) as they prepare for leadership in the church: for David Griffin, Quauhtli Olivieri, Katie Hamlin, and me? We’ll be posting the artwork and collects (collective prayers) below on social media this Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday. Please join us as we pray among the embers this week.
Collect 42. For the Human Family (BCP 659)
O God, you made us in your own image, and you have redeemed us through your Son Jesus Christ: Look with compassion on the whole human family; take away the arrogance and hatred which infect our hearts; break down the walls that separate us; unite us in bonds of love; and work through our struggle and confusion to accomplish your purposes on earth; that, in your good time, all nations and races may serve you in harmony around your heavenly throne; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Image: The Golden Rule by Norman Rockwell, 1961
Collect 16. For the Mission of the Church (BCP 650)
O God, you have made of one blood all the peoples of the earth, and sent your blessed Son to preach peace to those who are far off and to those who are near: Grant that people everywhere may seek after you and find you; bring the nations into your fold; pour out your Spirit upon all flesh; and hasten the coming of your kingdom; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Image: Streetcar Madonna by Allan Rohan Crite, 1946. Read more about Crite, who was also a devout Anglican: https://americanart.si.edu/artist/allan-rohan-crite-1047
Collect for Ember Days (BCP 634)
O God, you led your holy apostles to ordain ministers in every place: Grant that your Church, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, may choose suitable persons for the ministry of Word and Sacrament, and may uphold them in their work for the extension of your kingdom; through the great Shepherd and Bishop of our souls, Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Image: The Saints of Selma by Kelly Latimore (used with permission from the artist; follow link to learn more about the work)
Thank you for joining us in prayer.