The Prayer-Given Life

The Prayer-Given Life

by Edward S. Gleason

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Not just for church and other public occasions, the Book of Common Prayer is an incredible resource for private and intimate conversations with God. It gives us rich words and phrases with which to pray, words that can slowly change our hearts and minds. Throughout his life as a priest,parent, teacher, head of school,and publisher, Ted Gleason has had thousands of conversations about prayer with children, teenagers, young adults, the middleaged, and the elderly. This book is the fruit of those conversations as well as a love song to the words and cadences of the Book of Common Prayer. Gleason shows us how his long immersion in the prayers of the eucharist and morning prayer have been pathways to a deeper understanding of the presence of God. A gifted storyteller, Gleason has also filled this book with the vivid stories of others who pray and what happens when they do.He urges us to return to the practice of the presence of God every day of our lives, of which this book is a living and vivid example.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780898698138
Publisher: Church Publishing Inc.
Publication date: 09/01/2007
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 192
File size: 207 KB

About the Author

The Rev. Edward S. Gleason has enjoyed an interesting and varied career as school minister at Phillips Exeter Academy, head of Noble & Greenough School, development director at Virginia Theological Seminary, and publisher of Forward Movement. He is the author of Redeeming Marriage and Dying We Live.

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The Prayer - Given Life


Church Publishing Incorporated

Copyright © 2007 Edward Stone Gleason
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-89869-813-8



Keep Silence

The Book of Common Prayer begins with the Daily Offices of Morning and Evening Prayer to mark the beginning and conclusion of the day. Each service is announced by an opening sentence, a brief statement to greet the beginning or ending of the day, to mark the season, and set a tone for each person who prays, day by day.

These opening sentences — brief statements gathered from well-known biblical sources — establish the framework for prayer. They are essential to the possibilities and promises that begin to unfold in the mornings and evenings of our lives.

This is the day which the Lord hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it. Psalm 118:24 (BCP, 39)

The only moment that truly exists is right now. It is all we have, all we know. The past is gone; the future is only a hope. What matters is right now. Pay attention. Let nothing escape notice.

This is the moment in which God is present.

* * *

It happened at 11:30 p.m. on a September evening, as we turned into the driveway. My wife, Anne, wrote this poem to capture the moment.

    Sitting in the corner of the garden.
    She is statue still.

    Our headlights catch the reflection of the
    Screech owl's eyes —
    Yellow-brown marbles.

    No movement.

    We freeze caught in the moment
    Of surprise.

    Mystery surrounds us.
    Pay attention.

The event she writes of, a series of moments, has become a "now" so crystal-clear that it is ours forever. What makes this true? Was it the event itself? The fact that we stopped and watched? Or was it Anne's poem? It is all of that and more. It was the surrounding silence that invaded and controlled us. We were in the presence of an Other, enveloped by awe and the awareness that we were welcomed into the world God made. God was present, and we knew it.

This is the world in which we live all day, every day. Too seldom do we stop and pay attention. When we do, God is present.

The Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him. Habakkuk 2:20 (BCP, 40)

God is present in the silence.

* * *

THE FIRST SUMMER of my two-year duty as a young naval officer was spent in Foxe Basin, north of Hudson Bay in the eastern part of the Canadian Northwest Territories. Our ship had been sent to help supply and construct the DEW (Defense Early Warning) Line, being built to warn the United States of a missile attack from the Soviet Union.

On a Tuesday, not long after we had crossed the Arctic Circle, heading north, just as I walked into the wardroom to sit down for lunch, the executive officer appeared at my side and said, "Mr. Gleason, the captain would like to see you in his cabin." Scared to death, I walked from the wardroom to stand before the curtain that opened into the captain's cabin and knocked on the door jam. The captain said, "Come in."

Sitting at a round table covered with a green felt cloth, he looked up and without asking me to sit down, said, "Mr. Gleason, I have just learned that you majored in geology. I'd like you to collect some geological samples from this area, identify them, and I shall send to the Navy Hydrographic Office for comment. The executive officer has ordered a launch with a crew of three for your use for the afternoon. It is waiting at the gangway. Collect any tools you may need, dress warmly, go ashore, and report to me when you return. That will be all. Thank you." I saluted, turned to leave and do as I had been ordered, still frightened.

The three seamen in the boat were as green and bemused as I. No one spoke as we left the ship's side, until finally the boy at the helm asked, "Where to, sir?" I gestured toward the shore in the direction of a collection of rocks of all sizes, marked by several large boulders. The boat nudged slowly next to a large flat piece of glacial residue, and I stepped ashore, none too gracefully.

"Lay off a hundred yards or so," I said. "Keep an eye out, and I'll wave when I'm ready. It'll be two hours, at least." I turned and began to climb the steep slope ahead of me with no idea what to do next.

After I'd gone two hundred yards, I turned and looked back. The ship, riding at anchor, seemed far away. I turned to walk some more. Here and there, stone cover gave way to what I thought was mossy tundra. Before long it occurred to me that I'd better do what I'd been sent to do. I stopped to chip several samples with my hammer, designed for removing paint and rust from the ship's hull. The samples went into the pail I had brought with me. Pail, samples and hammer were set atop a large boulder to await my return. Then I continued to walk, up, up the hill, until the terrain began to flatten out.

When I turned to look back once again, the ship was even less visible, now seemingly in another world. I was alone. I could scarcely make out the thirty-eight foot LCVP that had brought me from ship to shore. The world from which I had come was unreal, toy-like. Only I was real, and now totally alone.

Or was I? Actually, I was surrounded by silence—complete and absolute silence. Everywhere there was silence, palpable, real, enveloping. There was not a sound, not a single sound. There were no voices, no distant whir of machinery, no sounds from the water, or the noise of the wind. Since there were no trees, there was no way to hear the wind.

This did not mean, however, that there was nothing. There was something, something amazing, wonderful and life-changing. I was enveloped, encased, surrounded, and uplifted, as I had never been by silence, complete and absolute. I had never been in such silence. It was overwhelming.

Through no action, no intention of my own, I knew I was in a holy place. I found a way to lie down, flat on the ground, my head on a small rise. There I remained, as still as possible, to look up into the gray sky and listen, just listen to the sound of silence, something I had never before heard. Time lost all meaning, and as it did, I knew what I was hearing was the voice of God.

* * *

God is present in the silence.

* * *

Watch, for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or in the morning, lest he come suddenly and find you asleep. Mark 13:35, 36 (BCP, 75)

God, whom we may know only in part, is always ready to enter our life. Advent, the weeks before Christmas, asks us to make particular preparation for God's arrival, to open our lives in a special and timely way, right now, in this very hour.

This opportunity comes every day. The invitation that will make it happen — to open our lives to God's advent — is always ours. All-powerful and always present, God will never intrude, unless we desire it. We must offer the invitation. Any time, any hour of any day, will do. The choice is always ours.

The possibility remains that God will one day arrive with force in the fullness of time. How do we prepare for that moment?

An old friend, who would not consider himself a part of any worshiping body, wrote a poem for Christmas that described his Advent this way.

    When the tsunami draws back its fistful of waters
    And crushes the city, let me for once be ready.
    Let me be washing the dishes or patting the dog.

    When the great windstorm angles across the flatlands
    Hungry and howling, let me be patting the dog.
    Let me be kneading the bread or picking an apple.

    When the ground shudders and splits and all walls fall,
    Let me be writing a letter or kneading the bread.
    Let me be holding my lover, watching the sunrise.

    When the suicide bomber squeezes the trigger
    And fierce the flames spurt and wild the body parts fly,
    Let me be holding my lover or drinking my coffee.
    Let us be drinking our coffee, unprepared.

Watch. Sooner or later the meeting will take place. We prepare by living our lives in the presence of God, knowing that the moment of dramatic incarnation of his presence may take place anytime. In the meantime, we live our lives knowing God is present in the ordinary, life-giving patterns of daily life: washing the dishes, patting the dog, holding our lover, drinking our coffee, unprepared.

This is how prayer happens. This is how God happens.

Behold, I bring good news of a great joy, which will come to all the people; for to you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. Luke 2:10, 11 (BCP, 75)

Christmas comes but once a year — and every day. Once upon a time at a certain hour of one day in the year of our Lord in a special place, God came into the life of his world. The moment that is Christmas remains a moment of overwhelming joy and hope and the promise of peace.

But that day and year and place and time are always. Phillips Brooks, the great preacher of the nineteenth century, put it this way:

    Where children pure and happy pray to the blessed Child,
    Where misery cries out to thee,
    Son of the mother mild;
    Where charity stands watching and faith holds wide the door.
    The dark night breaks, the glory wakes, and Christmas comes once more.

* * *

IT HAD BEEN A LONG DAY, tedious, no surprises save unwanted and unwelcome challenges at work. He was tired of the whole thing. Finally, he had broken away and found his way home to a dark house. She was gone. There was no note. He had no idea where she might be.

* * *

He was standing at the kitchen sink, alone, washing out the last of the apple cider from a glass before he placed it in the dishwasher He never heard her step as she entered the room, only the slight pressure of her arms reaching around to hold him. He turned, and they kissed. All was well.

* * *

This is how prayer happens. This is how God happens. The eighteenth-century poet Christopher Smart wrote,

    Where is this stupendous manger?
    Prophets, shepherds, kings, advise.
    Lead me to my Master's manger,
    Show me where my Savior lies.
    O the magnitude of meekness!
    Worth from worth immortal sprung;
    O the strength of infant weakness,
    If eternal is so young!
    God all bounteous, all creative,
    Whom no ills from good dissuade,
    Is incarnate, and a native
    Of the very world he made.

From the rising of the sun even unto the going down of the same my Name shall be great among the Gentiles, and in every place incense shall be offered unto my Name, and a pure offering: for my Name shall be great among the heathen, saith the Lord of Hosts. Malachi 1:11 (BCP, 38)

God the Creator becomes real in the world through the incarnate presence of Jesus Christ.

* * *

THE JOB INTERVIEW was going well, until his interviewer asked, "Tell me about your walk with Jesus."

The candidate replied without hesitation, "Every place I go, Jesus seems to have arrived there first."

As he answered the question, he could see the interviewer's eyes glaze over. What was expected was an affirmation of personal piety. There was a long, painful silence, then the reply, "I'm not sure I understand. Tell me more?"

"Of course. You see, it's been clear to me since I first met Jesus that he's present in the world everywhere I go. You never know when and how he'll show up. It's God's world. Jesus Christ is God's presence in the world."

"Fine, fine," the interviewer broke in. "What I want to hear about is your walk with Jesus."

"That's what I'm talking about. My walk with Jesus doesn't depend on how good I am or how prayerful I am — only on God's presence in Jesus Christ. That has nothing to do with me. That's the work of God."

The subject was changed. The interview ended. The interviewer did not want to be told that Jesus is alive and well in the world. He wanted to hear the affirmation that when we are good enough and pious enough, we bring Jesus into the world — not the other way around. The story of Christmas and the reality of prayer are that God in Christ comes to us whoever we are, wherever we are.

If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us; but if we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:8, 9 (BCP, 38)

We wish it were not so. We wish that it only involved other people. It involves all of us.

Brother turns against brother, nation against nation. We turn away from those who are different from us and affirm only our own kind. Difference is dangerous. We loathe and avoid it, affirming what we know and those with whom we agree.

And when we do so, the ever-recurring and increasing cycle of evil is extended, until we fall on our knees and confess our own grievous fault. The truth is that sin dwells in us, and as it does, it is extended to others.

God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and renew a right spirit within us. But first we have to ask for God's forgiveness — in prayer.

All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all. Isaiah 53:6 (BCP, 39)

LOUISA IS TWO YEARS OLD. No child could be sweeter, more adorable, more loving—until the moment comes when she is thwarted and challenged.

Yesterday, her newest friend, Hannah, came to play. Hannah took one look at Louisa's new tricycle and moved across the room to climb aboard. "No!" screamed Louisa. "No! No! No! Mine! Mine!" There was much wailing and crying. Her mother rushed over to explain and to reassure Louisa. Once the little girl understood that her territory and property were not being taken from her, merely shared temporarily with her new friend, there was quiet and peace.

Louisa is not unique; she reflects clearly what each of us knows and wants: our own way, our own space, our own territory. Each of us turns again and again to claim what is ours. It is the human story — the story of the ages — that produces conflict, war and every kind of political problem.

The problem is evident in the day's news: the Israelis and the Palestinians, Republicans and Democrats, civil war in the Sudan, the Russians and the Ukrainians, the United States and global warming, the sense of rightness and entitlement evidenced by the French, the United Kingdom, the United States — virtually any and every nation.

We crave for a center, an absolute for our world and seek it in our own interests and in ourselves. There is but one absolute: God in Christ reconciling himself to the world. Jesus Christ was sent by God to change the way we understand and live in the world that God has made. This Jesus enters our world and intervenes on our behalf.

But this will only happen if you and I open our lives to Christ's presence in prayer — prayer made possible through Jesus Christ, our Lord.

The hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshipers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth; for the Father seeketh such to worship him. John 4:23 (BCP, 40)

"WHEN'S THE BEST TIME to trim that holly bush?" I asked my wise, older, and sometimes laconic, friend.

"When the shears are sharp."

When is the best time to pray, to practice the presence of God? There is no best time. All times are best; all times are right. God is always more ready to hear than we to pray.

* * *

HE AWOKE AS HE ALWAYS DID, very early, in the still dark small hours. Surrounded by unnamed and unknown fears, he remained very still hoping the fears would pass and prayed the familiar words, "Our Father, who art in heaven...." Then again, and again. Silence. He listened. God listened. It set the pattern for the day to be spent in the presence of God, always more ready to hear than we to pray.

This is how prayer happens. When prayer happens, the presence of God enters our lives, and God happens.

* * *

Thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy, "I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones." Isaiah 57:15 (BCP, 40–41)

Strong, resounding words. Words that announce and demand silence. They are spoken and heard with the authority that comes from God and declares God's presence.

These words are associated from my boyhood with a small, well-known, imposing man, whose face was marked by a large aquiline nose that bespoke nobility. He called me by name, knew much about me, but remained distant, far removed from my world. These words, together with the passage from the book of Job when God speaks from the whirlwind, define this man. He proclaimed that God was real, God was imposing, God was distant, but God was always available and present, with us — in the silence.

Mother Teresa was asked what she said when she talked to God. "I don't say anything. I listen."

"Well, what does God say to you?"

Mother Teresa replied, "God doesn't say anything. God listens."

This is what happens in the silence when we practice the presence of God. God happens.

* * *

SHE PRAYED THE WORDS of St. Teresa of Avila:

    May today there be peace within.
    May you trust God that you are exactly where you are meant to be.
    May you not forget the infinite possibilities born of faith.
    May you use those gifts that you have received and pass on the love that has
      been given to you.
    May you be content knowing you are a child of God.
    Let this presence settle into your bones, and allow your soul the freedom to
      sing, dance, praise and love.
    It is there for each and every one of us.


Excerpted from The Prayer - Given Life by EDWARD STONE GLEASON. Copyright © 2007 by Edward Stone Gleason. Excerpted by permission of Church Publishing Incorporated.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Preface....................     ix     

Prologue....................     xi     

1. Keep Silence....................     1     

2. Erred and Strayed....................     16     

3. Guide Our Feet....................     29     

4. The Time of This Mortal Life....................     47     

5. Direct and Rule Our Hearts....................     73     

6. Inestimable Love....................     90     

7. Unto Whom All Hearts Are Open....................     99     

8. He Loved Them to the End....................     125     

9. Peace at the Last....................     140     

10. Thanks in All Things....................     161     

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