St. Paul writes (Ephesians 4:22-24) that:
“You were taught to put away your former way of life, your old self, corrupt and deluded by its lusts, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to clothe yourselves with the new self, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” (NRSV)
Having just come through Ash Wednesday, I am particularly mindful of these verses. In some very practical ways, God speaks to me through them of His way of transforming me. The old identity is done away with (imagine Israel delivered from slavery), and yet before the new identity can be put on in fullness the spirit (or attitude) of the mind must be renewed. A very practical image where I am (the prairies of central Canada) is of a farmer coming in after a long work day in mud, with animals. This farmer will not simply take off the soiled clothing and put on clean clothes. This farmer will take off the soiled clothing, and then wash. Once clean, then it will be appropriate to dress in clean clothes. Think of Israel in the wilderness, who spent so much time still thinking like slaves. It took the passing of a whole generation of them for their minds to be brought out of those thought-patterns, for them to be able to embrace the possibilities of the new identity that was being given to them, for them to be made ready to come into the kingdom prepared for them and promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. In a way, this is what the dedicated time of Lent is for. Having our minds changed from the old way of thinking to the new way of thinking.
But that’s a lesson for yesterday, and it only touches on the reason for this site and blog in that engagement with daily prayer is one of the chief means whereby God has chosen to work this transformation in His people. That’s not what I’m writing about right now. Instead, consider that cycle: put away the former self, be renewed in mind, clothe with the new self. This is the cycle that I see repeated all throughout the liturgy of the daily office, and that’s what I’m writing about today. When I last wrote about pausing before entering into the prayers of the office, I was particularly concerned that a part of preparing oneself to spend a dedicated time in prayer is disengaging from the concerns and anxieties that regularly distract us from being a people of prayer. The prayers I suggested for the beginning of this “pause” are designed to beg God, in His mercy, to free us from these concerns for this time: “…to put away your former way of life, your old self, corrupt and deluded by its lusts…”
Having put the old away, how might we be moved toward renewal of mind – even in this pause before the prayer office? Remember what is involved in the kind of renewal that Paul wrote of. This is the realignment of one’s way of being to conformity with the reality that is now present. The farmer isn’t out in the mud anymore – he’s in a clean house – so he will wash himself; the Israelites aren’t slaves in Egypt anymore – they’re free people being cared for by the god who leads them and provides for all their needs – so they will spend a generation in the wilderness becoming a people who trust Him; you aren’t lost in the corruption of sin, which leads to death, any longer – you are, instead, a regenerate citizen of the Kingdom of God – and so you will be changed (from glory to glory); and here, you are no longer concerning yourself with the tyranny of worldly matters – you are entering a time for this one thing: joining your voice with the angels and archangels, with the saints who have gone before and will come after, offering to God His worthy praise – so you must mind yourself to this task.
As a devotional aide in having our minds turned in this way, I recommend praying a prayer acknowledging the state of things. Keep in mind that no other saint is an example for you – only Jesus; while stories of the saints may stir up your weak hearts for a time, it is only Jesus who grants true, lasting, inspiration, by His Holy Spirit. Remember that you are not the keeper of your own soul, but by these efforts God may deem to grant you grace that the One who sows the Kingdom will pull the weeds and clear the stones and loosen the earth of the beaten path and fertilize His crop that He has sown in you. This is not about you, and it is not about them (whomever your “them” might be), but about Him alone. I commend these context-framing selections to your use, which are included in the elusive Daily Prayers book of The Witness Cloud ( borrowed from the BCP tradition):
O Heavenly Father, who in thy Son Jesus Christ hast given us a true faith and a sure hope: Help us, we pray thee, to live as those who believe in the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, and the resurrection to life everlasting; and strengthen this faith and hope in us all the days of our life; through the love of thy Son Jesus Christ our Saviour. Amen.
O Eternal Lord God, who holdest all souls in life: We beseech thee to shed forth upon thy whole Church in Paradise and on earth the bright beams of thy light and heavenly comfort; and grant that we, following the good example of those who have loved thee and served thee here and are now at rest, may at the last enter with them into the fullness of thine unending joy; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
May God, who has opened to us the way of salvation and revealed Himself so mightily to us, grant that in your seeking after Him, He would be found by you – and you would find yourself in Him.
Fr. Jonathan Hoskin+