Monday, February 28, 2005

Humble Access, George Herbert and The Fountain

Yesterday was a looong day which began at 7.30 with Morning Prayer before the 8.00 Eucharist, and ended in the pub after some wonderful peace, space and inspiration thanks to The Fountain. As we stood in warm darkness round the altar, where bread was broken and shared (take some bread and give it to someone you don't know well...or several people....receive as much as you are offered...no limits....) the staggering reality of it all nearly overwhelmed me. I'd spent much of the day assisting at the Eucharist, together with a battery of servers, with bells rung, candles elevated and beautiful settings of the Agnus Dei,- but while we shared that loaf it seemed to me that all that had gone before was an elaborate way of ensuring that we kept our distance. In our liturgy, the `Prayer of Humble Access' ("We do not presume to come to this your table...") is the last prayer of the congregation before they come to receive the bread and wine. It's a good prayer, but its current position, immediately after the invitation to Communion "Draw near with faith", always feels like an additional stalling device. I imagine the Lord, tapping his fingers a tad impatiently, thinking to himself "I've told them to come to me....why don't they just come?"....and it hit me last night that all the ritual with which we surround that moment of receiving God in bread and wine has something of the same stalling quality.
I was blown away by the immediacy of our Communion with God and with each other at The Fountain....no fuss...we were invited to share, to partake, and we did.

Yesterday the Church remembered George Herbert (whose poetry was the subject of my never completed PhD) and as I drove home from Gloucester I realised that in the course of the day I'dbeen living through possibly his greatest poem,Love (iii)
"So I did sit and eat"

6 comments:

maggi said...

I do agree that the new position of the prayer of humble access is most uncomfortable. It feels like answering back to God - you may think you're very merciful, Lord, but you clearly don't understand how seriously humble I am...

I'm probably flouting Canon Law, but I either put it back in its "proper" place or don't use it all (latter option rather I shame, I feel)

John said...

I always feel that we need both, because the experience is both mystical and moving, both profound and banal, both transcendent and immanent.

Thanks for the reminder!

pax et bonum

Caroline said...

A stalling device, an elaborate way of ensuring that we kept our distance ...

what a sadly poerful insight Kathryn,

THanks, I'm going to take that away and ponder a bit ...

Tom said...

From the Common Worship liturgy days I've been the "retro" Prayer of Humble access seems not to work in most churches - UNLESS you can encourage people to say it as the first people approach the communion rail - so the words match the action and it literally becomes a prayer of approach which is what RC liturgy calls it. But I am switching it back to the pre location as I rewrite liturgies for seasona and special ocassions
Tom

Ron Cole said...

Beautifully written Kathryn, and expresses how alot of us feel. It is like on one hand Abba Father is calling us to draw near, and with the other hand we toss out this stone, and rather than humbling access...we have stunbling access. I wonder if sometimes if some people have failed to draw near as close as they could have. I also tend not to use it.

Anonymous said...

Why don't you just use The Book of Common Prayer? Who knows, if you do, people like me who were brought up with it might even come back to Church!