Editor’s note: This post originally appeared in the newsletter for St. John’s Episcopal Church in Montgomery, AL and is shared today with permission from the author.
I had something curious happen to me this past week, and it’s made me pay attention and wonder how the events of this past year are affecting not only me, but all of us.
The services of prayer known as the Daily Office in the Book of Common Prayer were invaluable to me when I first became an Episcopalian. They still are. I know that for some, Morning and Evening Prayer can be extremely boring and dry, but for me, they were like finding a life-preserver while being lost at sea. I often felt that I was trying to construct a spiritual life all by myself in an ocean of different options, but when I found the Daily Office I felt connected to something that buoyed me. I no longer had to decide what part of the Bible to read or what prayers to pray on a daily basis. I could just reach out and grab a hold of the larger tradition and remain afloat, connected to God and so many others.
Last Thursday morning, I was reading chapter 15 from the Rule of Saint Benedict entitled “The Times for Saying Alleluia.” The chapter gives instructions on saying Alleluia (which means “praise God!”) during the daily rhythm of prayer throughout the church year, and the main point of the chapter is this: this liturgical exclamation of joyous praise should be said at all times of the year except the penitential time of Lent.
I didn’t think much of it, but as I prayed Evening Prayer the italicized instruction near the beginning of the service caught my eye: “Except in Lent, add Alleluia.” Then it hit me—I haven’t said Alleluia during the Daily Office since the day of Pentecost which was on May 31st of this year. This joyous acclamation of praise has been absent from me for what is approaching three months, even as I have led Morning Prayer for my parish. This is unusual and I don’t remember this ever happening to me in all the previous years I’ve prayed the Daily Office.
I share all of this talk about the Daily Office and Alleluias because there was a confusion that hit me earlier this year that stopped me from the joyful exclamation of God’s praise—and I’ve just now realized it, almost three months later. But I’m pretty sure the confusion began before then.
We conducted our first live-streamed worship service twenty-two Sundays ago. I had only then begun to start wrapping my mind around the pandemic. Easter came and went, but it felt strange to not be gathered with everyone. There were scary news stories about the death toll. Then came the killing of George Floyd and the movements and unrest that followed, not to mention the political volatility and international events that have happened since then. Sure, I felt some added stress and anxiety, but it was nothing I couldn’t handle. I was pushing on and trying my best to make it through these strange times. And then one day, I realized the Alleluias were gone.
I’m wondering how the events of this past year are affecting each of us, and if we are tending to our souls and being mindful of the care we might need in light of all that has happened. I wonder if others, like me, have forgotten the Alleluias. No matter what struggles or uncertainties we face, what fears and anxieties we carry, or what confusion might settle upon us, the truth remains that there is no place we can go where God’s love is not there with us. That truth and promise is worthy of an exclamation of joyous praise.
Please be gentle with yourself and try to be gentle with others. There’s so much going on. Each of us is dealing with it, and it’s sometimes the case that we’re unaware of how much things may be affecting us. Maybe you’re soldiering on and pushing through. That’s fine. But stop every now and then and check in with what’s going on underneath the surface. If you are struggling, if you realize the burden is heavy—reach out to someone. Ask for support. Turn to God in prayer. And know that you are not alone.
Except in Lent, add Alleluia.