Before we had children, when we had just started attending an Anglican church, I remember telling my husband that in the Book of Common Prayer there were words big enough and strong enough for all of life — birth, death, and everything between.
I grew up with only extemporaneous prayer, where I would grasp for original words that would inevitably prove weak. So, as we encountered the Anglican tradition, I found the Word of Christ dwelt in me richly through the rhythmic and fitting prose of the 1928 Prayer Book. I found rituals that highlighted the sacramentality of normal life. I found myself drawing closer to Christ as I followed Him through the path of the Church Year.
This Prayer Book spirituality was very different than the type of spirituality I had grown up with. Instead of a constant inward look, I was looking to shape my soul according to something I found outside of myself. Instead of only focusing on my personal relationship with Christ, through the Prayer Book, I was joining with the Church Militant and Triumphant in the communal work of prayer.
And, as I’ve had young children, I have only become more thankful for the Prayer Book. From the births of my children, when I wept through the “Churching of Women,” to their baptisms, when we vowed on their behalf to “renounce the world, the flesh, and the devil,” to the daily family prayers, as we beseech the Lord for “light and strength,” I’ve become convinced that this Prayer Book spirituality is also a family spirituality.
The idea of “family spirituality” is not a term that we hear often, though I have lately realized that it’s the underlying topic behind The Homely Hours, a liturgical living resource that my friends and I started a few years back. What is family spirituality? Is it possible? As we work within that topic, we tend to address it practically in three ways: daily family prayer, weekly worship as a family, and seasonal liturgical living.
In terms of daily prayer: we are trying to practice, in whatever way we possibly can, the ideals of Anglican morning and evening prayer. This isn’t easy (which is why we are all very thankful for the shortest version of family prayer at the end of the Prayer Book). Many times this may look like saying the Lord’s Prayer through baby wails. Or, for a while, we prayed in the evening with my toddler solemnly playing a tiny xylophone as we sang the Nunc Dimittis. It’s not pretty, but it can happen (with effort and without the expectation that it needs to feel a certain way to be legitimate).
In terms of weekly worship, we try to keep even our young children as much as possible in the Sunday service. Sometimes, this is awful (i.e. we have published posts called “Children in Worship, or The Mortification of the Parents” and “How to Survive Your Sunday Shrieker”). But, here is the statement of our church on children in worship:
“Children are lovingly invited to our services to participate in the rhythms of the liturgy. In practice, this means that the sounds of children – ranging from laughter to cries – are viewed not as distractions, but reminders that we as a church are all called to be as little children. We do not consider our children future members in training, but rather full members in the present: embraced, accepted, and joyfully welcomed into our corporate worship. This also means that we seek to create a Christian culture that engages and envelopes our families – a culture that radiates outward from the Table that we share on Sunday.”
We want our children to see that they are also part of this essential work of prayer. Our Lord is delighted with praise and prayers “out of the lips of babes and nursing infants.” And we, their parents, are too.
Lastly, in our understanding of family spirituality, we give attention to the liturgical year. When we started the Homely Hours, we wanted to share church year traditions that would be simple for families to incorporate into their own homes. The last thing we wanted was to make parents feel guilty for not doing this or that. Our priest, Fr. Wayne McNamara, reminds us constantly that we “strive guiltlessly.” I always need that reminder. I’m constantly telling myself that these are tools to help our family love and follow Christ; the church year was made for man and not man for the church year. A frantic mother trying to put together this or that liturgical living resource out of guilt won’t do much good toward a peaceful home, full of the love of Christ.
In the end, becoming a Prayer Book family — establishing this family spirituality — is requiring love, conviction, and a good sense of humor. For me, another part of our Homely Hours project has been putting together a weekly post that includes short biographies of the saints for the week. Remembering the real lives of saints strengthens me for this work of love in my family. They remind me that this Christian life has never been a life of ease — it’s always required perseverance and love (and perhaps even, that sense of humor).
Today, I listened in the other room as my young daughters played ‘house” and responsively prayed, “Lord, have mercy; Christ, have mercy; Lord, have mercy.” Every time we sing the Lord’s Prayer, my two-year-old shouts out “We do this at church!” And this past summer, a dear friend from our church lost her grandmother — a godly woman, a pillar in her faith. As the family rushed out of the door to say their final goodbyes, her oldest daughter, only seven, ran back into the house to grab their Prayer Book. When we give our children the Prayer Book, we give them words strong enough to grow up with, to grow into, and to take with them both to life and to death.