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Understanding the Parables: The Every Moment Holy Prayer Journal



2023 was a year of motion for me - several moves, a lot of travel, finishing a year of graduate school, starting a new job, and last but certainly not least, getting married in the middle of it all. The whole year felt held together by two projects that lasted most of the year and followed me across states, presenting themselves again to me during slow mornings or plane flights or on borrowed library computers. The first was compiling the Every Moment Holy Prayer Journal - selecting liturgy excerpts, providing accompanying Scripture passages, and writing response prompts for a project I hope lends a new liturgical space to Douglas McKelvey’s prayers. The second was slowly working my way through (and backward and forward and back through again) a 100-page book gifted to me by my now father-in-law: Presence in the Modern World by Jacques Ellul. 


Ellul (1912-94) has a prophetic voice. He’s no teacher or devotionalist, systematically laying out a journey of piety. He’s more of a John the Baptist poking, provoking, and crying out in the wilderness. Like the prophet Jeremiah, he’s the sort who will break a clay pot outside the gate, and after several chapters of examining each piece, lend you just one or two concepts for how it might fit it back together again - concepts guaranteed to shake up a few of your preconceived notions of Christian living. 


He also has a rare knack for keeping the uncomfortable tensions Scripture insists upon when it comes to the work of the Lord and human responsibility. In other words, he somehow holds fast to the power and the glory without letting mankind off the hook. All his proddings and pokings lead to his thought in the final chapter that


“we should not think that relations between God and human beings...are formed as though people do their part of the work and God does the rest (‘God helps those who help themselves’). In reality, human beings do their work and God supplies to that work his meaning, value, effectiveness, influence, truth, justice - his life."

Our work and God’s life - as if he were the vine and we the branches, bearing fruit from the nutrient source. Our work and God’s meaning - so unified that you’d have an easier time separating yeast from flour once it’s been kneaded together. 


Another one of those rare folks who keeps the tension is Doug McKelvey, who has spent the last decade or so putting words to the holy moments that present themselves to us amid our ordinary days. He’s given me the language to ask the Lord to supply His meaning to my everyday tasks, each liturgy a varied way of praying the same prayer: “Lord, bring your life to my work.” 


The goal of the Every Moment Holy Prayer Journal is to provide another space, one more personal and reflective, for us to keep praying the same thing, be it through liturgies like “For Blessing a Space” or “On Stewardship” or “On Uncomfortable Conversations” or “On Having Believed a Lie.” The journal consists of 52 entries, each including an excerpt from one of Doug McKelvey’s liturgies in Every Moment Holy: Volume I, along with two passages of scripture – one prose, one poetry – and three journal response prompts. Each entry also provides space for us to write our own prayers or liturgies each week.


We (that is, the folks lending their time and thought to this project - Doug McKelvey, Pete Peterson, Leslie Eiler Thompson, and myself) have sought to capture the varied seasons of the soul in these 52 entries. Like a map, this journal allows us to identify where we are in any given day or season and choose an entry or theme that fits. This is to serve two purposes: first, that we might know and shape the posture of our hearts now as we move forward, opening ourselves to the life of Christ in our daily work - every dusty spiritual corner and attic space. Then, keeping this journal for years to come, we might also be able to see where our hearts have been in the past. Someday we will look back to see the kindness of the Lord when we were there, bringing meaning and truth where we didn’t know to ask. 


Jacques Ellul explains that to fail to invite the Lord into our work is to betray both our relationship with the Lord and our relationship with the world - for, as Spirit-bearers, we hold the responsibility to bring Life where we can: in “Small Things” and in “Mighty Things” and in “Seasons of Illness” and in the work of “Leading Others.” I hope this journal matches the centrifugal motion of the ministry of Christ, beautifying individual lives so that they might beautify the world. 


Whether or not we invite the Lord into each area of our lives is, of course, a decision we make each day, a hundred times a day. Part of my excitement in shaping this journal came from discovering and rediscovering countless situations, relationships, or postures in my own life that I so often forget to pray over. Am I not, in this, betraying my own self as well? I who want to live a beautiful life so often forget to invite Beauty in.  


Remember that moment in the Gospels when the disciples complained because they found Christ’s teachings confusing? And the Lord replied: “To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables…Do you not understand this parable? How then will you understand all the parables?” (Mark 4:11-13) Is not the same true for us, surrounded by parables every day? How will we understand our own lives, if we don’t first ask the Lord to bring His meaning and ask Him to help us see and know it when it comes? As Ellul explains, “We are tasked with understanding all of these parables in which the action of Jesus Christ is inscribed, in history and in our human lives. And it is only this understanding that can give them meaning. It is only in Jesus Christ that we can possibly understand this wild adventure into which we are thrown, because in the midst of these shadows, he is the person, in the midst of this maelstrom of facts, he is the event, in the midst of these religions, he is the author and finisher of faith.”


The Every Moment Holy Prayer Journal is one way to build this habit of entreating and discovering the meaning of the Lord in our lives - of trying to understand the adventure. It’s a habit of Scripture and writing, liturgy and prayer, kept alongside others in this community and elsewhere. But there are countless other ways. My gift (and challenge) to the Rabbit Room community in 2024 is that we each seek out some way to regularly invite the Lord to lend his life to our work, helping us understand the parables that surround us each day.



 

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