We may be on the other side of Lent now, but it is worth remembering that the practices of prayer, silence, and reflection are constant, year-long pursuits. Here, Kate Rae Davis, a writer and Master of Divinity student, reflects on the rhythm of noonday prayer at The Seattle School.
Visitors to The Seattle School are often surprised. Not by the industrial-chic design of the building, which they’ve seen in our viewbook; not by the outspokenness of our students, which they often know by reputation; not by the depth and breadth of our work, which they’ve read about on our website. They’re surprised by a loud bell that interrupts, mid-sentence, regardless of classes in session or conferences taking place. They’re surprised by the mild manner with which everyone else seems to receive such an interruption. They’re surprised that, even in the midst of animated discussion, everything seems to mellow after the bell has faded.
In these walls, we have a practice we call “nine noon three” in which bells chime at these hours to remind us of…well, whatever it is you need reminding of in your spiritual practice. Some people say it’s to remind us that we live our lives before God. Others use it as a reminder that they came to the school to better learn to love God and neighbor, and that those two are intimately tied. Still others use it as a reminder simply to breathe.
For me, the bells were always a call to prayer, often brief and silent, breathed inside my being. After years of this, I began to feel a desire for us to be a community that prays together, rather than simply praying near one another.
This year, my co-facilitator of the MDiv group Eagle & Child and I began meeting in the chapel every day at noon. The bells are our call. We meet there and read the Prayers of the People from the Book of Common Prayer. Or one of us will bring an ancient prayer. Or we’ll simply speak and formulate our own prayers for the community.
At least, I thought we were doing it for the community. A few months into this practice, I have to admit that I’m not sure how much the school-wide community has responded to our prayers, or even noticed that they happen. God was always at work in these lives; we do not take credit for the continued goodness we see. But for those of us who regularly interrupt our days to be called to the chapel at noon, the practice of noonday prayer is connecting, and we notice when one of our number is away. The practice of noonday prayer is calming in a place that can be full of the anxiety of three hundred students struggling through both emotional and academic work. The practice of noonday prayer is centering in a place where the categories we’re asked to consider are as big as the cosmos.
I’m still skeptical about the way prayer works—can it really have the power to change the world (even the limited world inside this one brick building)? And yet, as this prayer practice forms me, it does change the world through changing the way I interact with it. Prayer changes my world.