Means of Grace
The memory is a great aid in our spiritual life. When we commit prayers and scripture to memory we say ‘I know it by heart’; memory is a door to the heart. We know that in so many ways, not least when we examine our conscience. Memory can feed the heart, the centre of our being, with food that strengthens and enriches. When we say ‘I know it by heart’ we also mean we have learnt it. To be more exact, we mean we have learnt the text and it teaches us as we bring it forward to our reason and our imagination. Memory can be a library of such richness, but first we have to stock it.
Former generations (and those of a certain age) learnt so much by heart: times tables and Latin declensions at school, but also psalms and collects from the Prayer Book as well as other sources. Now with so much artificial memory and intelligence governing so many daily tasks the human memory is often overlooked! The trend in many churches to chop and change the liturgy, and the fact that scripture texts are very seldom repeated, does not aid us in ‘learning by heart.’ My first decades of worship were according to the Book of Common Prayer. I, for one, am very grateful that at primary school I was set the task of learning the General Thanksgiving. I still use it often as a framework for prayer and reflection:
Almighty God, Father of all mercies, we thine unworthy servants do give thee most humble and hearty thanks for all thy goodness and loving-kindness to us and to all men. We bless thee for our creation, preservation, and all the blessings of this life; but above all for thine inestimable love in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ, for the means of grace, and for the hope of glory. And we beseech thee, give us that due sense of all thy mercies, that our hearts may be unfeignedly thankful, and that we shew forth thy praise, not only with our lips, but in our lives; by giving up ourselves to thy service, and by walking before thee in holiness and righteousness all our days; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom with thee and the Holy Ghost be all honour and glory, world without end. Amen
As Holy Week and Easter draws near, the thanksgiving for ‘thine inestimable love in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ, the means of grace and the hope of glory’ is given a new light. The worship and prayer of the Triduum evokes such varied and deep emotional responses. It can be overwhelming. Where do we start in rooting ourselves in these seismic events, in these profound truths?
Thanksgiving, as a general rule, is one of the surest ways to draw us into the presence of God. It might help to pause at this special time and reflect on the truth that what we hear, what we pray, and what we sing celebrates and teaches us about all the Lord did for us to provide the means of grace and the hope of glory.