This morning’s first lesson in Morning Prayer came from the opening verses of the prophet Micah, as he, with erudition and careful articulation laid out before the King of Judah just how dire the situation had become. The slippery slope of evil was cascading them into exile because of their transgressions. It was a dark and dangerous read. The canticle after the reading that is appointed according to the cycle I use comes from another prophet, Isaiah, and begins, “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has dawned upon you.” Wow, talk about a roller coaster! How do you fit these two readings together? Which does one listen to? And why can’t I choose what I read so it flows nicely and presents a coherent theme?
The answer is, yes, I could. But there is much spiritual benefit from the rhythms of a discipline, even, and perhaps especially, when parts of it don’t seem to flow together. I read the lessons appointed according to the Revised Common Lectionary because hundreds of thousands of Christians around the world are reading that same passage with me. I join in the throng, knowing that in surrendering to this discipline, over the course of two years I will read 95% of the Bible. I read the canticle assigned for the same reasons. The fact that the two express very different sides of the human experience can be jarring or stretching, depending on how I choose to respond. If I let it stretch me I realize both sentiments expressed are emotions I feel in my life. It lifts me out of the emotions of the moment, and lets me see my life from the balcony, so to speak, to see its length and breadth. I am reminded that if I craft the readings and canticles for the moment I am all too easily tempted to limit the scope of expression to what I subconsciously acknowledge as “acceptable,” and avoid the broken shadows. All of my lived experience must show up in my prayer, or I am less than honest, even less than human. No, I need them both, right there, side by side, standing in contrast to one another, to free me from the tyranny of my own immediacy.
Surrender to the disciplines of the faith is not an arbitrary breaking of the will born of some dark view of human nature, but a willing sacrifice of my own limitedness in order to be lifted into my fullest humanity.