Episcopal Identity: Taste and See

By Jayan Nair

During the rite for Holy Anointing, after the priest’s oil-soaked thumb traces the sign of the cross on your forehead, they offer a prayer for God to “restore you to wholeness and strength.” This image of God’s healing work as ‘wholeness’ carries a powerful weight with it, precisely because the brokenness in our world is overwhelming. We are brokenhearted, divided along the lines of difference, split by schisms in the Church, and torn between our own conflicting desires.

God meets us in this brokenness. He calls us into a relationship with Him and gathers together these broken pieces and binds them together. The burning desire that undergirds all of God’s work of salvation is that we might all be one—be whole. The business of the Church is bringing about this wholeness in the world—gathering the motley mass of humanity, molding and nourishing us through the Sacraments, and empowering us as agents to invite the world into this transformative healing.

In teaching us to live out this mission, our Anglican tradition invites us into specific practices to reckon with our brokenness, humbly bring it to God, and allow ourselves to be transformed. The Book of Common Prayer beckons us to join past generations of Episcopalians and seek our God of healing in the ‘trifecta’ of Benedictine spirituality: Eucharist, Daily Office, and Personal Devotions.

Holy Eucharist

The Eucharist, as “the principal act of Christian worship,” is our anchor on this journey of healing. In the act of making Eucharist, we gather “our selves, our souls and bodies” in all their aching brokenness and bring them to the foot of the cross. We can’t fix the brokenness ourselves, but we don’t have to. In the Eucharist we get to hand all the fragments of the world over to Jesus, who lifts them up to the Father as part of his own sacrifice. In this act of offering, our brokenness is brought into the unity of the Father and the Son and made whole. In Body and Blood of Christ, we get a foretaste of the perfect wholeness we will bask in at the last.

A great beauty of our faith is that we don’t make this offering, or taste its return, on our own. We make Eucharist side-by-side with other believers, other hurting people. And we make Eucharist in the company of the saints who went before us, and now sit in glory, joining their prayers with ours. Knowing we worship in unison with the saints is hugely comforting to me. As I look back on our Eucharist for St. Aelred (patron of LGBT+ Anglicans) on January 12, I’m heartened by the thought of offering myself up alongside someone who died centuries ago, who knows the pain that comes with life as a queer person, and who tastes the healing that has been promised.

Daily Office

As central as the Eucharist is to our lives as Christians, St. Benedict and the framers of the prayer book were careful to remind us that our spiritual lives can and should be further nourished by other practices. The Daily Office, a cycle of liturgical prayers for morning, midday, evening, and night, laid out in the prayer book brings a tradition with roots in pre-Christian Judaism out of the cloister and into the parish.

This practice has had a tremendous impact on my spiritual life and my own journey of healing. That’s the major motivation driving me as I’ve launched daily Morning Prayer to St. John’s and worked to establish the Society of St. Nicholas Ferrar, an association of people who commit to cultivating the Daily Office as a discipline in their own lives and their communities. As I pray the Psalms and the Scriptures day after day alongside fellow Christians, I’m continually astounded at the new depths of meaning and comfort that emerge.

I think this is why St. Benedict and Archbishop Cranmer were so insistent on the Office—if our lives are centered on praising God and recounting the stories of His healing work in the world, the experience of that healing is bound to saturate our souls over time.

Personal Prayer

St. Benedict knew, of course, that although the Body of Christ must be healed collectively, its Members come with brokenness that can be bared only to God. This is why personal prayers play a key role in a Benedictine/Anglican spiritual life. There are innumerable forms: contemplative prayer, the Rosary, journaling. As a parish we even explored a form from Eastern Christianity when Fr. Jonathan Proctor gave a workshop on praying with Orthodox icons on January 9.

Whatever form it takes, personal prayer is an opportunity for us to simply be present with God and open up our hearts for our innermost fractures to be healed. It’s between us and God. This privacy is, perversely, what can make it so difficult. It’s certainly where I struggle most, without obvious accountability. I can tell myself that buying myself that new icon or devotional book will be what gets me to make time for prayer. But new prayer aids rarely do it. The only thing that gets me to pray is noticing that I need the healing and comfort it provides.

That’s ultimately what these practices are all about: healing. That’s what all of this is about. God came into this world in its utterly shattered state, redeemed it, and raised it up to heaven. And he left his Church to continue making that wholeness manifest. The spiritual practices at the core of our Episcopal tradition—Eucharist, the Daily Office, and personal prayers—work God’s healing out in our lives and empower us to go out and invite the world to bring all its brokenness to God to be transformed into wholeness. We get to taste healing and say to the world with from our experience, “Taste and see that the Lord is good.”

*Originally published in the January/February 2020 edition of the Evangelist.

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