Ordinary Radicals, Prayer and Community

I’ve spoken before of my admiration and respect for Shane Claiborne and the authenticity which which he lives his Christian life. This past Saturday evening I attended one of the many book release parties that took place throughout the United States and abroad in connection with the publication of Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals, witten by Shane, along with Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove and Enuma Okoro. There I met and prayed with a small, but mixed, group that included Mennonites, Evangelicals and Catholics. During our gathering we received a phone call from Shane, who prayed with us via speaker phone, an experience I found very moving. I also happily came home with a copy of the book (actually two, since I picked up a copy for some friends.)

Since the book is intended for daily prayer, rather than to be read cover-to-cover, the only thing I read immediately was the Introduction, which (like everything Shane writes) contains some beautiful ideas to contemplate. The book is aimed at unity and community, as evidenced by the use of the terms “common” and “liturgy” in the title and subtitle, and much of the Introduction speaks to the theme of community in one way or the other. A number of things struck me particularly when reading it, of which I’ll mention a couple.

The first, which resonates so deeply with the Catholic vision of the human person, was the idea that in common prayer, “we enter a counterintuivite story.” Such prayer “helps us to see ourselves as part of a holy counterculture, a people being ‘set apart’ from the world around us (and the world inside us) to bear witness that another world is possible. We’re invited to become a peculiar people, living into a different story, and orienting our lives around a different set of values than those we are taught by the empires and market around us.” Specifically, in a world the prizes individualism and autonomy, our life as Christians is a communal life. In contrast to a world that views “the essence of our being [as] the ‘I'”, our essence is communal. And whether we pray alone or prayer with others, “our prayer lives connect us to the rest of the body of Christ around the world.”

The second is that the community of which we are a part is not comprised of only those who inhabit the world today but those who came before us and those who will come after us. “We are one in Christ, a union so strong and eternal that nothing can separate us, not even death, and certainly not stime or space.” Thus, just as our “ordinary” calendars include the dates of the birthdays of our siblings, cousins and other relatives, the calendar by which we orient our lives includes the holiday so the biblical narrative as well as the lives of the saints who came before us, in whose “imperfect but beautiful lives, we can see our own possibilities and potentials.” Among other things, this book of Common Prayer aims to help us “keep God’s story at the center of our lives and calendar.”

I’m looking forward to praying with the book, both alone (I’ve already started to use the morning prayer each day) and with others. Doubtless I’ll have more to say about it as time goes on.