Let’s be honest: praying out loud with a group of people can sometimes be an awkward experience. I’ve been in circles where we all prayed out loud at once, where nobody prayed out loud and we all held our breath for a while, and circles where everybody held hands and prayed one at a time by “passing the squeeze” (remember that?). I can’t even count how many times I’ve been standing in a circle of people where someone said, “Okay, let’s pray…” and silence followed for what seemed like an eternity. No one knew what to pray, who was supposed to jump in, or when the prayer time would be over. Praying collectively with a group of people can be a powerful experience, but it always helps if you have a clear understanding of where you’re going.
Last week in the Foundation Series, we opened the topic of prayer, and specifically looked at a section of our service called “The Prayers of the People.” If you’ve attended a Parish Gathering, you might notice that there’s another prayer that follows this section each week called the “Collect.” It’s always a super-long sentence, about a paragraph in length, and it changes each week. So, what’s the point of a prayer like this?
The Collect (pronounced CAHL-ect, for reasons unknown to me) is a guiding prayer. It’s a written prayer that helps focus us, each week, on exactly what it is we hope God does in our midst on that specific day. The Collect acts as a “key,” with some sort of clue that helps us see exactly what we’re supposed to learn that day. Each week the focus is a bit different, and the Collects always follow the rhythm of the Church calendar. For instance, on the Fourth Sunday of Advent (our first Parish Gathering, for those of you who were able to attend), the Collect was:
Purify our conscience, Almighty God, by your daily visitation, that your Son Jesus Christ, at his coming, may find in us a mansion prepared for himself; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
There’s so much to be explored in this one-sentence prayer, we could write an entire blog on it. But quickly there are a few important themes that pop out:
- Today is about God purifying us (a theme of the Advent season)
- Today is about God’s “daily visitation” in our lives
- Today is also about preparing for the day when Christ comes again (the major theme of the Advent season)
Put it all together, and you see the bottom line: We want to interact with God daily, so we can grow in Christ and be prepared for His return.
Collects are prayers that keep us focused. They help us avoid the awkward “You dial, and I’ll hang up” moment, because they set a clear course and give us words when we often lack them.
So what do we do with these “Collect” prayers? Well, obviously as we gather for worship it is important to not just skim past the words of the Collect and move on to what’s next. Take a moment and think about it, ingest it and let it digest a little. Look for the clues, see if you can discern what the theme of the day will be. See if any particular words jump out and grab your attention, and then see what God wants to say through that word in the rest of the service.
But the Collects aren’t just meant to be used in a weekly worship service. We can use them each day of the week, as a small prayer that helps bring us back to God’s reality and remind us of what we should really be focused on. Look back at the Collect we talked about above (“Purify our conscience…”). What would happen if you prayed that prayer every day for a week? Would it help change your focus? Would it help you, even if just for a second, see your world with a different perspective?
So give it a shot. The next time you read the Collect at a Parish Gathering, take a second and look a little bit closer. Don’t just let it pass by quickly, dig in and really pray it as you read. Then, as you go throughout your week, take that prayer with you, maybe even say it once or twice a day as you pray or during your morning commute. See what happens over time when your prayers have a clear and beautiful focus.
Where do you go to find the Collect of the week? Just stay tuned on the Parish Anglican blog. Every week, we’ll post the Collect along with the Daily Office readings. For this week’s Collect and readings, click here.