A DAILY WORD — Using the Internet to Help People Pray Everyday

Written for Trinity News, The Magazine of Trinity Wall Street, Summer 2014 Vol. 61 No.2


Richard Meux Benson, the founder of the Society of Saint John the Evangelist (SSJE), was concerned about the pace of the Industrial Revolution and its effect on our humanity. He wrote that he was worried about what the impact of the train arriving in Oxford would be when people started traveling over 30 miles an hour for the first time. Benson did something radical: he did not run away to create a reclusive order but founded SSJE to stand in the middle of modernizing developments and uphold the timeless wonders of daily prayer, reflection and meditation, and focus on God’s love in the world. He founded SSJE in Oxford, England, in 1866, and the order thrives to this day at two monasteries in Massachusetts.

One hundred and fifty years later our technology has swept us along to unimaginable wealth. This progress has been marred with terrible losses in two World Wars and many other conflicts. As we now move at an accelerating pace, maybe our progress will be unmarred by further losses of humanity. I hope so. I believe, like Benson and the Brothers at SSJE, that if we help people pray every day it will help. But we can’t just pray when things go wrong—we need to pray to keep our lives humane and make sure we use well the gifts of technology.

I have the good fortune to work for SSJE and be involved in efforts to bring prayer to the Internet. The Brothers, as is laid out in The Book of Common Prayer, publicly pray at least four times a day: Morning Prayer, Noonday Prayer, Evening Prayer, and Compline.

I think of these prayers as follows:

MORNING PRAYER: Center yourself as you begin your day.
NOONDAY PRAYER: In the thick of the day, offer all you are trying to achieve, all you see, to God. Be in awe.
EVENING PRAYER: Stop work, be grateful, begin to recover a sense of peace.
COMPLINE: Have hope for the following day. Rest in God’s peace.

With these practices we can try to keep our humanity in the busiest of worlds.

The Episcopal Church, like most mainline churches, is largely organized around a service and a sermon on Sunday morning. Monks and nuns place less emphasis on Sunday and more emphasis on every day. The question we are asking at SSJE is, “Can we provide ways to pray every day when people need it?” We are learning how to use the Internet to help people pray, at least once a day to help people not just be swept along in the business of their lives.

A few years ago we started sending out a morning daily email called “Brother, Give Us A Word.” It consists of a single word to meditate on with a very short reflection. For example, “Gift—This life is a gift— not to be earned, but received—the gift of living in union with God. —Br. David Vryhof”

We now have many subscribers all over the world. We discovered that we had developed a simple form of Morning Prayer. Recently we received this comment: “I work with the dying—with men who are in the process of dying from HIV, AIDS, terminal cancer—and ‘Brother, Give Us a Word’ is so helpful to me in that work. The other day, for instance, when I wake up, there is ‘Hope’ on my iPhone. That’s the day’s word. Or there is ‘Love.’ And I carry that word with me throughout my day, as I’m companioning the dying. The simplicity of it is perfect. Through this study, every day, I’m learning more and more about myself, about others, about spirituality. It’s a very important part of my daily life. It is so helpful to me to have these words, as I companion the dying in prayer.”

Through these meditation emails we have seen both new forms of church and mutual care grow. In Lent 2014 we sent daily emails with very short videos featuring the Brothers talking about love in the Gospel of John. The series was called LoveLife and can be viewed at SSJE.org/lovelife. With each video we posed a question. The first video asked, “Where can you know abundant life? Where can you still grow?”

A reader wrote: “What is ‘abundant life’? I am mourning the death by suicide of my 29-year-old son, Joe, three months ago. I wonder if/when I will love life and accept that Joe did not.”

The Brothers replied: “Our hearts go out to you as you grieve the death of your son, Joe, three months ago. We will remember you in our prayers—for strength and courage to claim the gift of life amidst this terrible loss, and to know Jesus’ promise of his presence with you. And we will remember Joe in our prayers, that he will know healing in death, that he will be filled with Jesus’ light and life and love.”

People who had never met revealed their suffering and compassionate desire to help one another. These replies were posted by other readers: “I lost my younger son in 1999 to suicide. The one thing I would say to you is that I am proof you can eventually return to an appreciation of life. I don’t know how you will do it, but it can be done. Please don’t go it alone. There’s help to be found.”

“I am so deeply saddened by your loss. I too lost a son, age 32, by suicide almost four years ago. I also lost my ability to enjoy all that I had enjoyed before his death. Slowly, and much to my surprise, my life has changed, and I have found new enjoyments, for lack of a better word, among them a much closer relationship with God.”

All of this has given the Brothers encouragement to support daily prayer online. I am currently working with them on a Noonday Prayer offering. Over time and with enough support, we hope to help people pray four times a day.

Recently I received some unexpected encouragement for helping people pray daily. I was in a taxi in Washington, D.C., and my driver was El Mostafa, who was working long hours to support his family in Morocco.

He asked me, “What brings you to D.C.?”

I replied, “I work for Episcopal monks—we teach people to pray four times a day.”
He reached up to his meter and turned it off, saying, “The rest of the ride is free, please pray for me. Where I come from, we are told to pray four times a day. But most people only pray when things go wrong.”

Please pray for El Mostafa. Please don’t wait for things to go wrong. Pray every day.

Jamie Coats serves as the Director, Friends of the Society of St. John the Evangelist, a monastic community of the Episcopal Church.

Brother, Give Us a Word
Monasticism began when a few faithful men and women went into the desert to seek God and live a life of prayer. These Desert Fathers and Mothers, as they became known, were spiritual beacons whom others sought out for their wisdom in the ways of God. The seeker would approach and ask, “Father (Mother), give me a word.”

The Brothers have adapted this ancient tradition for today, offering online a daily “word” to all who seek a deeper knowledge of God, a means of handing on what we ourselves have received.

You might use each day’s word as a focus for your prayer. Say the word to the rhythm of your breath and invite the Holy Spirit to speak to you through that word. You might also use the day’s saying as a focus for meditative reading or lectio divina, reading slowly and allowing your mind to drift as the words inspire you to further prayer and reflection.

You can find the daily word at ssje.org/word.

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