Near the beginning of each Sunday morning service, the Celebrant (on behalf of the people) offers a prayer referred to as "The Collect of the Day." You may remember a Collect is a brief prayer form quite typical of The Book of Common Prayer, which is simply a collection of several ideas or themes woven together into a tight, poetic form. Our Eucharistic and Daily Office liturgies use Collects in many different ways, but the Collect of the Day is especially appointed for a particular service that falls on a particular day of the church year. Most often, these are assigned either because they draw on the thematic elements of the lectionary readings for that day or because they recall one of the holy women or holy men we celebrate on designated feast days.
The Collect of the Day for this coming Sunday, the Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost, reads:
Lord, we pray that your grace may always precede and follow us, that we may continually be given to good works; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
As I read this prayer this morning, I can't help but wonder if it presents us with a tree-falls-in-the-forest-but-no-one-is-around kind of question to consider: Does God's grace already precede and follow us, even if we don't realize it?
Our tradition tells us that by virtue of being children of God, God's grace surrounds us continually. And because we believe that God's very being is unconditional love, we also believe that God's grace envelops us whether we acknowledge it or not. So why, then, would we pray in this way? Why ask for something we believe and have been taught is already true?
The answer lies within our understanding of what prayer is. Rather than a transactional exchange with a God who has something we want or need, and who will grant our wish if we only ask nicely, prayer is intended to be a relational encounter with God. Our petitions are less about God giving us something, and more about opening ourselves more fully to the divine flow of love, of grace, of mercy. Like a chiropractic adjustment or a good massage, these prayers re-orient our whole selves in a healthier, holier direction. This week's Collect of the Day, then, is a prayerful reminder to each of us that God's grace does indeed already go before, behind, above, beneath, to the right, and to the left of us. It urges us to be on the lookout for that grace in all its forms, because when we realize we are swimming in it, its hard to do anything other than work for the good.