- Vested Interest
Pray Without Ceasing
Two weeks ago I left church after Compline on a Sunday evening. Copley Square was dark and mostly deserted, and my heart was still full of the sacred stillness that had arisen out of the darkened church, the candles glimmering in the gilded chancel, the enrapturing music rising from behind the altar. As I walked toward the Copley metro station next to the Boston Public Library, I heard different voices raised in song, along with talking and laughter. A small group was gathered on the corner of Boylston and Dartmouth, next to Old South Church. Drum and tambourine thudded and jangled a lively beat. Two young women were dancing lightly, and singing:
I have to confess, I find the Hare Krishnas enchanting. I don’t know much about the organization, and maybe it has a dark and sinister side, but I haven’t discerned or learned of anything worse than off-key singing. I love the members’ cheerful willingness to be religious in public, to look a little strange in the pursuit of God. As I understand it (and again, I’m very much not an expert), the Hare Krishnas—the International Society for Krishna Consciousness—align themselves with the tradition of bhakti yoga, the branch of Hindu practices that emphasize continual, unceasing adoration of God in one’s chosen incarnation. By praying the name of Krishna over and over, one gradually brings oneself closer to unity with the divine.
I am not a religious syncretist—if anything, I’m annoyingly emphatic about differences among faith traditions—but I see a pleasing parallel here with the Daily Office of monastic life. These short services, designed to be prayed several times a day, encourage us to frame our lives around prayer, scripture, and psalms. In the case of prayer, it seems, more actually does mean better. Many of us have been testing the waters of the Daily Office this Lent in a Facebook group, “Morning Prayer with Trinity Church Boston.” Lord, open my lips, we say each morning, And my mouth shall proclaim your praise. In our separate homes—yet somehow united—we begin each day by orienting ourselves toward God.
I will be honest: I have found this quite difficult this Lent. Sometimes, usually during times of particular hardship or sadness, I find it easy and useful to immerse myself in liturgy. During these times I go to church every chance I get, walking over to the SSJE monastery for Compline, saying Noonday Prayers by myself or with a colleague, and reveling in the four Trinity services I try to be part of on Sundays. Right now, though, is not one of these times. My life feels busy, overflowing even, and I’ve had a hard time focusing as I say Morning Prayers to myself. I find myself feeling impatient with the words of the Apostle’s Creed: I already said this yesterday; why do I have to reaffirm it again?
But I persevere. Any kind of training worth doing requires persistence through the rough patches, I tell myself. The hard parts, no less than the easy parts, are essential to formation. I remind myself of the words of Paul: Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. Give thanks in all circumstances. And I remind myself that I’m not in this alone. This, maybe, is what makes me so happy about the Hare Krishnas: they help me remember that even in the moments when my prayer ceases, someone else’s prayer continues.
At "Vested Interest," church nerd Mary Davenport Davis explores all things liturgy and music at Trinity and beyond. Chime in with comments and questions!