Today as I hurried out of the house, my wife and I said Luther’s morning prayer, as we do nearly every morning. The prayer is printed, framed and hanging by our front door. My wife grew up saying Luther’s morning prayer in her home, along with Luther’s evening prayer and a prayer for traveling blessings. This is one of the traditions we’ve carried into our house.
Yet today was different. For the past several months I had been reading the prayer from the framed print on the wall. Today, perhaps because I was in such a rush (I nearly missed my train), I looked across the living room to my wife and began saying the prayer as I picked up my coffee mug and grabbed my backpack. She joined in. By the time we made it to the front door, we had finished the prayer. A quick kiss and I was out the door, in the car, and speeding (literally) to the train station.
This was the first time I ever said that prayer by memory. I have been saying Luther’s morning prayer out loud every morning for the past few months, and now it is etched on in my brain. The daily practice of prayer has allowed me to internalize the prayer, to make it my own, to let it come effortlessly off my lips.
Not the same, however, with my daily prayer routine. Since September I have been praying a simple form of daily prayer on my daily train commute. However, out of respect for my fellow commuters, I do not offer this prayer out loud. I simply read this prayer ritual – including the ten commandments, apostles’ creed, lord’s prayer – silently to myself. In essence, this takes place only in my head. My lips are not moving, my ears are not hearing, my body is otherwise not engaged.
I’ve learned Martin Luther’s morning prayer by doing Martin Luther’s morning prayer every day. My body is involved in this prayer – my lips, my vocal chords, my tongue, my lungs, my ears – and by praying with my body, not simply my mind, I am truly learning and internalizing this prayer. My daily commute prayer routine, on the other hand, is largely a cerebral activity. That routines resides in my head – it does not flow from my lips or require any other significant use of my body, save for the occasional flexing of my gluteus maximus to keep myself steady on a wobbly train. (Martin Luther would probably appreciate the use of the ass in prayer, but I digress).
I admit to being in the pro-memorization camp. I have seen routine prayers become extraordinary comforts to patients in the hospital who are at life’s end. How many times have I begun reciting the Lord’s Prayer or the Magnificat or Psalm 23 and had patients and family members join in! How often have I sang part of the compline liturgy or the kyrie as I’ve walked down the hospital hallways late at night, seeking comfort for my weary soul? We learn these prayers and rituals by doing them, and by doing them they become a comfort and a blessing to us throughout all our days.
My daily commute has been shaped by this discipline of prayer. On the occasional day that I forget my Bible or Order of Prayer I feel disoriented. But I have not yet internalized this prayer. It has not yet become something that I can turn to for comfort and blessing apart from printed materials. Yet for now this routine must remain silent and cerebral, unless I can somehow carve out 10-15 minutes in my morning routine at home (which is just not possible right now). I hope and pray that somehow these prayers can seep from my brain to the rest of my body, and that my whole being can embrace and carry these prayers with me throughout the day, everyday, for many days to come.
15O Lord, open my lips,
and my mouth will declare your praise.
16For you have no delight in sacrifice;
if I were to give a burnt-offering, you would not be pleased.
17The sacrifice acceptable to God* is a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.