church, spiritual, theological

First Things First

I am not a morning person. I would love to stay in bed as long as possible, keep to myself as much as possible. I imagine most of us would.

But, lately, I have been attempting the practice of attending morning prayer at my church, a practice that I was first introduced to while participating in the parish’s Uptown Fellows Program and which I kinda-sorta continued after program completion.

Ranjani's Communion photo
photo by Ranjani Groth

The little chapel gathering for Morning Prayer And Holy Communion convenes each morning at 8:00 am (used to be 7:30 am, which I almost never managed to make). Needless to say, at that time, I am tired.

I yawn. Sometimes a lot.

And I learn. Sometimes a lot.

I am learning to love the fact that, for the most part, the first things I hear in the morning (besides my alarm clock and the natural white noise of the world waking up) are the officiant’s opening words, an “invitatory” statement like this: “O, Lord, open thou our lips.”

The first things I say in the morning are the congregation’s response: “And our mouth shall show forth thy praise.”

The first things I consume in the morning are the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. Broken for you. Shed for you.

The first motions I make with my hands are to cross myself. Up, down, side, side. The head, the heart, the whole of my being. As though trying to dedicate the whole of my day to the work and worship of God.

Of course this is all far from completely, perfectly true. In reality, I might first hear voices of worry in my head. Might say “good morning” (or something less polite perhaps) to my housemates. Might consume a cup of coffee or the morning news. Might make some other motion with my hands even while driving to the church (just kidding…mostly).

Imperfect though it is, what a holy habit this has become to practice putting first things first. To even try to hear holy things first and say sacred things first. To breathe in communion and breathe out commission.     

In philosopher James K.A. Smith’s latest book, You Are What You Love, Smith discusses the “spiritual power of habit,” asking questions like:

“What if you are defined not by what you know but by what you desire? What if the center and seat of the human person is found not in the heady regions of the intellect but in the gut-level regions of the heart? How would that change our approach to discipleship and Christian formation?”

From my experience of morning prayer, I might add to Smith’s questions another, similar one: “What do you put first?” Facebook? Food? Finances? Friends? Family?

I have put all of these first, and then some. And, to some extent, that’s alright.

But I wonder what it would look like to, more and more, literally and liturgically, in our days and in our lives, “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33).

3 thoughts on “First Things First”

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