I’ve been writing a fair bit on themes around a missional order since Seabeck. Anyone new to this blog might think I write on little else, but this is simply a current theme… we’ll be onto other matters soon enough, though this one is quite unlikely to be left behind entirely. I
talked a little bit about the daily office and its relation to liturgy already, but the whole subject of the daily office is one that I’ve been encouraged to write about a little more.
For those who are less familiar with the whole subject, there’s a fairly long-ish Wikipedia entry for Canonical Hours, and quoting from its introduction:
Canonical hours are ancient divisions of time, developed by the Christian Church, serving as increments between the prescribed prayers of the daily round. A Book of Hours contains such a set of prayers.
In the West, canonical hours may also be called offices, since they refer to the official set of prayer of the Roman Catholic Church that is known variously as the Divine Office (from the Latin officium divinum meaning "divine service" or "divine duty"), and the Opus Dei (meaning in Latin, "Work of God"). The current official version of the hours in the Latin Rite of the Roman Catholic Church is called the Liturgy of the Hours (Latin: Liturgia horarum).
Phyllis Tickle refers to it as the Divine Hours or “fixed-hour prayer”; there are several other titles by which the practice or the liturgy which guide it may be known, including The Breviary. In
my earlier discussion about this topic, I mentioned that for those of us with evangelical (or similar non-mainline) backgrounds, the idea of praying from a script can be a little harder to wrap one’s mind around. Often, even The Lord’s Prayer falls by the wayside, and I described the realization that Jesus literally meant for us to pray that prayer, as it was given. Scot McKnight does a good job illustrating the background of this prayer as well, and indicating some of the prayers which Jesus himself is likely to have prayed daily. I had looked at the context of the giving of the Lord’s Prayer and found that Jesus basically told his disciples not to bother running off at the mouth when they pray, since this was a pagan practice that didn’t do any good. The old phrase, “Could you not tarry one hour?” on the lips of Jesus to his disciples in Gethsemane has always been presented as chiding them (and us) for an apparent inability to pray for sixty minutes. Now I wonder if Jesus really meant, “Couldn’t you keep just one appointed prayer time with me?” Not sixty minutes, but perhaps… who knows? Fifteen?
Following the Seabeck gathering, we agreed that we needed to engage ourselves in “the resocialization of the habits and practices of Christian Life.” By this we mean (in part) the keeping of the Daily Office — perhaps not at every appointed hour, but at least once daily. Though we dispersed from Seabeck, our agreement to do this together while apart has in a way kept us together. In Revelation 5, the prayers of the saints are stored up in a bowl, and in our daily practice of prayer, our voices join those of the other saints, rising to God like incense to be pooled up in the bowl. We are joined in our prayer, and by praying the hours, or the office, we know that we are joined in the same prayers with others, our hearts with theirs. In this fashion, we may come to understand that we never pray alone. I remember early-morning prayer meetings of my yesteryears… the alarm would go off and I would not want to roll out of bed. Sure, God would forgive me or reschedule as necessary… but I had made a commitment to “the guys” to be there. And I was. The daily office aids us in just this commitment we make not only to God but to one another… and it is one of the mundane everyday practices of the Christian life with which we must be resocialized.
I confess the praying of the daily office is relatively new to me, but already it is proving rich for me and for my family. Before I address the matter of using scripted prayer, I wanted to share a few vignettes — an early report of our journey in this so far, but a collection which I already consider to be
Great Moments in the Daily Office:
- Thursday, October 25th. Our youngest daughter (Age 6) shakes me as I’m trying to sleep in. Out of a deep sleep, I’m confronted with the somewhat excited words, “Daddy! Mommy says if you get up we can do the Daily Office!” We’ve been doing the Daily Office as a family, just the morning and evening ones. It takes a bit of talking about what some of the words mean, and on a tip from Rickard, we started imagining what it meant 1500 years ago to pray “Christ under me, Christ over me, Christ beside me, on my left and my right” and imagine him as a light and a shield. We’re getting it bit by bit, with some morning offices said in the car on the way to school and some… well, I’m glad we’re not the only ones.
- Sunday, October 28th. The kids are with grandparents; my wife and I take the dog out for a walk in the morning, to the park in our neighbourhood where the Carol Shields Labyrinth which is being built. The shrubs aren’t in yet, but the brickwork is done and the path is in. We walked the labyrinth, me with a mug of tea, my wife with the dog’s leash, trying to keep him to the path without any constraints which might have seemed obvious to him. It was a chilly morning to be praying the Daily Office in an outdoor labyrinth with frost still on the ground.
- Monday, October 29th, Thursday November 1st, and Monday November 5th. Attempting to test out some virtual tools for a dispersed group to pray the midday office together, I join Mark Priddy and Rickard Bjerkander and we say the office together first using Skype and then using GoToMeeting with a conference call. Works well, and we are joined by Peggy Brown, Rick Meigs, and a group of staff and family on the end of Mark and Rickard’s speaker-phone. It’s good to hear everyone’s voices stepping through the daily office together, separated by miles but united in prayers. We’re giving this a try once a week for the month of November, and I’ve already got my invite for the next one. The comments of the participants universally have little to do with the technology and a lot to do with the connectedness we feel.
- Friday & Saturday, November 2nd and 3rd. At my wife’s suggestion, our family spends time together making little booklets containing the printed words for Northumbria’s Celtic Daily Prayer (morning and evening); now we each have our own little booklet to use when we pray the morning and evening office together. I forgot until later that we weren’t the only ones to think of this, but it does help the kids take a bit of ownership over the whole thing. These replace the quick ‘n’ dirty Morning Office Booklet (PDF) (one sheet, fold twice, makes a book) that I had printed for each of us.
The matter of “praying by rote” is probably the biggest point of disinformation and misunderstanding. It is presumed that praying words from a page is less real, less “alive” or engaged than whatever comes spontaneously by the Holy Spirit. First off, I have to say that although I’ve heard many a powerful Spirit-inspired prayer, I’ve also heard many a prayer that must have put even God to sleep. Extemporaneous prayer goes both ways… as, I admit, does scripted prayer. If the key then is in centering your mind and engaging your heart in the prayer, then I submit that the printed word is a great help in this process. “Rote” means “memorization by repetition,” and if printed prayers are prayed enough to become memorized prayers, I submit that this is an entirely good effect, like reading the same Bible “too often” until it becomes memorized. With such practice in hand to sink these holy words and practices into our minds, we renew them just enough that at some unexpected moment when we are in dire need of them, they surface easily. In such times, the heart has little trouble engaging and “meaning” what you pray. In saying the Daily Office, it is good, too, to say it somewhat pensively, making space for yourself to focus reflectively on the words as you pray them.
God knows when our hearts are engaged, but I’ve a growing suspicion he honours our half-engagedness as well, and isn’t deterred at all by the repetitive nature of our prayers, like a continual pounding at the door, call it persistence, if you will. Even most of the extemporaneous prayers are repetitive, if we’re honest… except that they’re much more whiny and self-centered (and in public, they’re punctuated with “yes, Lord’s” and “really wanna’s”). I submit that repetition isn’t the issue so much as non-repetition.
Dense as I am, I’m beginning to understand that although I told my wife I loved her when we were contemplating marriage, and I reaffirmed this point after the fact, evidently it helps to say it more than just those few times at the outset. In fact, it might even help to make mention of the fact when I don’t particularly feel the fact. Sometimes I get the impression I could actually go so far as to say it every flippin’ day, and it still wouldn’t be too much. You see how dumb that sounds? This doesn’t work quite as well as it used to, but when our kids were younger and sleeping lightly, we could whisper in their ear that we loved them, and they’d respond, “I love you too…” without actually waking up. Somehow that just never seemed to get old. Were they “engaging thoughtfully” with their words at the time? Did they really “mean it”? You know, somehow without ever asking, I already have all the answer I will ever need to those questions.
I have a hard time thinking God tires of any lack of variation in our prayers. Let’s face it, much of the variety is just to keep us from getting bored. Then too, when prayer is according to a prepared text, it tends to remove the insurmountable barrier of avoiding prayers for wonder of what to say. And if we really want to hang our hats on the moving of the Spirit in prayer, we need to understand that sometimes there are just groanings and not words… and in such understanding, we need an expanded definition of prayer. Perhaps one so large that it could include such things as the recitation of prayers.
I am presently arranging a Daily Office series for use during the season of Advent, and am enjoying the many resources I’ve found and the things that I’ve been learning in the research process as well as by praying it daily with my family from our own little prayer books. there is much more to be said on this matter, but to really come to understand it, perhaps much of the saying needs to be the office itself. Nonetheless, author of Praying with the Church: Following Jesus Daily, Hourly, Today, Scot McKnight has begun blogging through Telford Work’s Ain’t Too Proud to Beg: Living Through the Lord’s Prayer, a title I also have in my review pile. Scot calls it
a book on the Lord’s Prayer unlike any book on either prayer or the Lord’s prayer I’ve seen. Here’s why:
Telford’s book is experimental theology, a grappling with his own questions by pondering and praying the Lord’s prayer. This book does not say “this is what it means, you apply it.” Instead, it invites his readers into his own pondering. The book is not meant to be devoured in sermon preparation, but read carefully and permitted to lead us to prayer and thoughtful meanderings.
There is also the books Celtic Daily Prayer: Prayers and Readings From the Northumbria Community and David Adam’s The Rhythm of Life: Celtic Daily Prayer. Any of these are good places to start, and there are a good many online resources as well, so there’s no need to wait for the book to arrive before digging in.