A few months after I returned from Iraq my spiritual life fell apart. It felt like God was no longer there. It had been that way for a while but in June of 2008 the frustration and despair of the situation coupled with an emotional collapse had gotten the best of me and I stopped doing the various spiritual disciplines that had been an important part of my life as a Christian and Priest for years. I think the last really meaningful times that I had spent with God had been in Iraq and the sense of disorientation, loss and abandonment that I felt when I could no longer pray the Daily Office.
Now for those that don’t know what the Daily Office is, it is a form of prayer that is structured to included Psalms, Prayers and Scripture readings. There are a number of variants within the Anglican, Catholic and Orthodox traditions each with somewhat different emphasis but all similar. I would alternate between those from the Book of Common Prayer and the Catholic Liturgy of the hours. One year I did the Orthodox daily prayers. I found different things in each that were helpful and version I found a lot that I liked and some things that I didn’t like as much. The most helpful thing about the Daily Office for me was that it helped build an internal spiritual discipline and order in my life. Contrary to being limiting as some would think it was of great benefit.
However with my internal compass messed up and wondering if God even existed, the mere act of doing what used to bring order and joy to my life became an exercise in futility. I tried different rites to see if it was just me as well as different physical settings to see if something would work. None did and my spiritual crisis continued to grow as I felt estranged from my former church and felt abandoned by God and by some parts of the Navy. Although I was struggling and people knew it no clergy of any kind asked about my spiritual life, it was my therapist that first asked me “how are you and the Big Guy doing?” I had to admit that I was not doing well with the “Big Guy” and wondered at times if he even existed.
I went through nearly two years of spiritual emptiness with glimmers of hope. Last year in what I describe as my “Christmas Miracle” faith began to return in the midst of the Sacrament of the anointing of the sick in our ER at Portsmouth Naval Medical Center. In that simple act done on call at the in the final moments of a retired Navy doctor and Episcopal layman who had given himself to his church and the community faith returned. He died as my hand was upon his head praying the final prayers of commendation. His wife said that he was holding on until I got there and a number of ER staff said that they had never seen anything like what happened. When I left the next day I knew that something was different, I felt hope again and that maybe just maybe that God might very well exist.
This year has been a continuous yet slow time of spiritual growth. The act of prayer returned as did occasional spiritual reading and reflection. I also began to feel the sense of mystery and awe when celebrating or attending a Eucharist. Now I was still struggling especially to rebuild my spiritual life, but after 2 years of not even knowing if God existed but it was a quantum improvement over being an agnostic.
Since moving to my new job I have been looking to see how to build structure back into my life using the daily office. I looked at the Roman Catholic Liturgy of the hours which I really like as well as the Book of Common Prayer which I had been using most recently but decided to wait until Advent and the new liturgical year to start. During this time one of my Chaplains shared the “Celtic Daily Prayer” of the Northumbria Community with me. I was hesitant to try something new at first but I respect this Chaplain who as an Evangelical Christian uses the Benedictine Daily Office of the Roman Catholic tradition. One thing that attracted me to this variant of the Daily Office was its Celtic roots. Celtic Saints have played a part in my spiritual journey St Willibald of Eichstadt a Celtic missionary to Germany has the feast day associated with my ordination, his brother Wunibald an Abbott in Germany that of my Baptism, St Rupert of Salzburg my birthday and St Killian of Wurzburg the Patron Saint of my first duty station as a Priest. I find great comfort and inspiration in the lives of these saints.
He loaned me his copy and over the weekend I began to explore it. Sunday night before going to bed I prayed the Sunday Night office of Compline. Since the night is still one of my most difficult times when I struggle with insomnia as well as occasional nightmares, disturbing dreams and even on rare occasion night terrors related to my PTSD. When I prayed this variant of Compline I felt peace descend and this morning I did the Morning Prayer. Of course I was at work and despite the fact that my door was closed it seemed everyone wanted my time. I was thinking, my God I’m trying to actually pray can’t I catch a break? I finally did and I really liked the order for Morning Prayer. I am going to begin the Evening Prayer tomorrow and try to finish each night with the Office of Compline. I am hopeful that the renewal that began last Advent in our ER will continue and become a major part of my spiritual renewal. I do like the basic vow of the Northumbria Community which is to live with Availability and Vulnerability
before God and others as one expression of living faithfully in a fragmented world. I have included the Sunday night Compline below.
Sunday – The Ita Compline
Ita, who died in about 570, was abbess of a women’s community in Killeedy, County Limerick in Ireland. She ran a school for boys where she taught: Faith in God with purity of heart; simplicity of life with religion; generosity with love. Among those schooled by Ita was Brendan, who honoured her as his foster-mother and adviser. The Compline that follows is named after her because of its emphasis on examination of the heart, and the prayers of care and protection for each soul who crosses our path.
If this Compline is being used in a group setting the * notation indicates a change of reader; words in bold are said all together; words in bold italic are said by each person in turn; and + indicates where you might make the sign of the cross.
The Sacred Three
and every night.
* Search me, O God, and know my heart.
Test me and know my thoughts.
* See if there is any wicked way in me
and lead me in the way everlasting.
O Father, O Son, O Holy Spirit,
forgive me my sins.
O only-begotten Son of the heavenly Father,
O God who is one,
O God who is true,
O God who is first,
O God who is one substance,
O God only mighty,
in three Persons, truly merciful,
* O God of life, this night,
O darken not to me Thy light.
* O God of life, this night,
close not Thy gladness to my sight.
* Keep Your people, Lord,
in the arms of Your embrace.
Shelter them under Your wings.
* Be their light in darkness.
Be their hope in distress.
Be their calm in anxiety.
* Be strength in their weakness.
* Be their comfort in pain.
* Be their song in the night.
In peace will I lie down, for it is You, O Lord,
You alone who makes me to rest secure.
* Be it on Your own beloved arm,
O God of grace, that I in peace shall awake.
Be the peace of the Spirit
mine this night.
Be the peace of the Son
mine this night.
Be the peace of the Father
mine this night.
The peace of all peace
be mine this night
+ in the name of the Father,
and of the Son,
and of the Holy Spirit.
P.S. If you desire to find the Celtic Prayer of the Northumbria Community it can be found at their website: http://www.northumbriacommunity.org/pray-the-daily-office
Prayer request. I have been called into the hospital regarding a very sick young man in our ICU. Please pray for him as he is not doing well.