Several years ago some good friends gave me a book. The fact that they gave me a book and not a gift card is evidence of our friendship, because my love language is books.
The book I received was Scottish minister John Baillie’s A Diary of Private Prayer, and it not only reminds me fondly of those friends, but it represents my earliest realization that I need help praying.
Growing up in a nondenominational church in the American south, I was suspicious of anything that could be described as liturgical, assuming as many do that prayer should be extemporaneous and “from the heart,” and anything less was in danger of becoming rote at best and ritualistic at worst. Baillie’s book is arranged into morning and evening prayers for each day of the month, plus special prayers for Sundays. Our family tried them hesitantly at first, but soon found ourselves reaching for the book more and more, in the end treasuring it so much that I bought copies and gave them to friends.
While I love those old prayers, the last few years found me wishing I had new ones. Andrew Peterson
Baillie’s words lead me gently but firmly into prayers I would not have otherwise thought to pray. In them I’m confronted by my own darkness—not just of obvious sins, but of the sins that lurk beneath them—as well as the light of God’s great mercy, as the revenant of that Scottish saint takes me by the hand and leads me through the thorny hedges of godly shame and repentance into the wide, golden fields of gratitude for God’s mercy in Christ.
“King of Creation” by Ned Bustard (copyright 2017)
If you come from a liturgical tradition you may find it surprising that I was so surprised by all this; it may be perfectly obvious to you that there’s a good reason certain prayers have survived for centuries. But the fact is, there are millions of Christians the world over, for a host of reasons, who have never engaged in liturgical worship. For many of us, this old thing is a new thing, and that brings with it some discomfort—but also a heightened appreciation for the ancient rhythms of prayer and meditation which have been more or less absent from our experience.
And as much as we may need this new (to us) language for prayer, those who grew up with it may also need our fresh enthusiasm for it to remind them what a profound gift it is to speak these ancient tongues, not just to know but to be reminded by all the saints how wide, high, deep and broad is the love of God in Christ. It is through this great cloud of witnesses that the Lord is teaching us to pray.
The fact is, there have always been poets underfoot. God just keeps making them. If Cranmer and Baillie and Oswald Chambers and George Herbert and the puritans who wrote The Valley of Vision had so much of value to say, then aren’t there new voices we should pay attention to? Aren’t there new prayers that we need help articulating? While it’s true that our struggles at their core are the same as those of the saints before us, it’s also true that the world of the 21st century is vastly different than they could have imagined: a world of smartphones and high speed internet and high-tech terrorists and pollution and ubiquitous pornography and selfies and Netflix.
There are no unsacred places; there are only sacred places and desecrated places. Wendell Berry
Sometimes I look up from reading those old prayers to find myself in a clamorous culture so far removed from the authors’ experience that their words can feel irrelevant. Our lives feel at once too frenzied and too mundane, too connected and not connected enough, too demanding and too sedentary. So while I love those old prayers, the last few years found me wishing I had new ones, prayers that were not just speaking to my current situation, but crying out from within it.
Wendell Berry wrote, “There are no unsacred places; there are only sacred places and desecrated places.” In that spirit, this new book of prayers, Doug McKelvey’s Every Moment Holy, reminds us that there are no unsacred moments; there are only sacred moments and moments we have forgotten are sacred.
If that’s true, then it is our duty to reclaim the sacredness of our lives, of life itself. And the first step is to remember—to remember the dream of Eden that shimmers at the edges of things, to remember that the madman on the corner was made in God’s image, to remember that work and play and suffering and celebration are all sentences in a good story being told by God, a story arcing its way to a new creation.
By remembering the holiness of each moment we banish that old Gnostic ghost and thwart its lie that there’s nothing holy about flesh and bone, soil and stone, work and pleasure and all tangible, tactile, visible things. The resurrection of Jesus sent shockwaves into every molecule of creation, even into this crazy century of ones and zeroes and jet engines.
It is our duty to reclaim the sacredness of our lives, of life itself. Andrew Peterson
If the Gospel is true, then it matters in all of time and space—from a thousand years ago at the Norman conquest of England to ten minutes ago when I ate a cookie; it matters from the moons of Jupiter to the couch where I’m writing this. Yes, I realize that I just conjured the less-than-flattering image of myself lazing on a couch, brushing cookie crumbs from my laptop—but that’s exactly the point. The Gospel matters even here. Even now. A wise man taught me, “Christianity ought to be as normal in your home as dirty laundry and Corn Flakes.”
In the same way that my friends once gave me John Baillie’s A Diary of Private Prayer, we at Rabbit Room Press want to give you Every Moment Holy in the hope that it will become a book you’ll find yourself reaching for again and again.
Douglas McKelvey is one of the finest writers of our time. He’s labored long over every word in this book, bringing his love for Jesus, his poetry, and his storytelling to bear on a work that has already blessed our family. When we’ve feasted with friends, when our family dog died, when we arrived at the Atlantic for holiday, when we sat on the hill over our home to watch the sunset, when I planted flowers in the garden, when my sons and I watched a series on Netflix, we read aloud Doug’s liturgies to remind ourselves of the sacredness of all things, of the pervasive truth of the Gospel.
Maybe you’re new to liturgy, maybe it has long been part of your tradition—either way, our hope is that you would let these prayers edify you, reshape your thinking, recalibrate your compass, ignite your imagination, and pique your longing for the world to come. Doug’s robust theology has come together with artist Ned Bustard’s profoundly meaningful artwork (every inch of every illustration is crammed with Christian imagery) to create a book that we hope will live on for generations to come, giving voice to prayers we didn’t know we needed to pray, as the kingdom comes on earth—in every holy moment—just as it is in heaven.
[Every Moment Holy is now available exclusively in the Rabbit Room Store. Visit EveryMomentHoly.com for free downloads and more information.]