Oct 6 2016

The Daily Office

Day 6 in a month-long series on Cultivating Sanctuary.

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Lord Jesus, stay with us, for evening is at hand and the day is past; be our companion in the way, kindle our hearts, and awaken hope, that we may know you as you are revealed in Scripture and the breaking of bread. Grant this for the sake of your love. Amen. – from Evening Prayer, Book of Common Prayer

Observing times of prayer through-out the day sanctifies time and daily life, and helps cultivate a place of sanctuary. It orders work around prayer, rather than prayer around work. It can help express the integration of life and prayer: all tasks, responsibilities, life itself, happens in the context of relationship with God, which is the context of prayer.

The daily office, from the Latin officium, “performance of a task,” is prayed according to an horarium, Latin for “of the hours.” This monastic daily schedule organizes the day into times of prayer, work, eating, relaxation, and rest. The office is mostly psalms, scripture readings, and intercessory prayers prayed on behalf of and for the world. Cloistered monasteries gather for prayer 7  times each day, sometimes waking briefly to gather in the middle of the night. At St John’s Abbey, where I studied, the chapel bells would ring the monks, staff, and students to prayer 3 times a day, morning, noon, and evening. Even now, the sound of church bells quickens my step and turns my heart to prayer.

In my own life, as a single person not living in community, the daily office finds different expression depending on the season. The practice is a regular part of my week, whether morning prayer, evening prayer, or compline, and sometimes all three. I don’t seek monastic consistency as an ideal. It is enough that my office book waits patiently on my kitchen table, easy to open while water boils, tea steeps, or a meal cooks.

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An extensive version of the daily office is found in the Roman Catholic tradition. In four volumes, it provides psalms and prayers 7 times each day, based upon the the church year. This version also includes daily readings from early church fathers, sermons, theological essays, and a wonderful collection of seasonally appropriate poetry. On the Protestant side, Presbyterians have the Book of Common Worship Daily Prayer (which is now an phone app as well); the Methodists have an order for daily prayer in their worship book; and the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer offers yet another version. You can also find online options of the book versions, such as the Episcopal office, or the full Catholic Liturgy of the Hours. In the past decade, many new versions of the daily office have been published by individuals or communities, such as Common Prayer, The Divine Hours, and Celtic Daily Prayer.

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While I began with the Catholic version 20 years ago, I’ve been using the Episcopal Contemporary Office Book more recently as a beautiful and simplified option. It takes the office sections from the Book of Common Prayer and makes it easier to follow. The prayers repeat more frequently, encouraging memorization, and the psalm translation is beautiful. It also includes the daily psalm & scripture readings on a two-year cycle. I supplement it with a book of Anglican daily readings called From the Fathers to the Churches. It mirrors the readings in the Catholic office, but adds Anglican saints and women’s writings.

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I am the first to admit that prayer is challenging. It is a practice that requires trust that even though it may seem that nothing is accomplished by it, and that it may feel that no One is listening, it is still enjoined upon disciples of Jesus to pray as an expression of our relationship with God.

Prayer is often the first practice to be forgotten on busy days. But God does not forget us. Finally stopping and praying the daily office on such a day is a sanctuary moment. Even as I write this, listening to the St Mark’s Cathedral Compline Choir sing night prayer, a tight place relaxes in my heart as I breathe deep for the first time since this morning.

The dailyness of the office is like a river flowing. Each time of pausing invites me to enter in. I may not choose to stop and pray, but now, after so many years marked by this practice, I know that it is an option. The river continues to flow and God’s invitation never ceases.

Maybe this is the most basic fruit of the daily office–simply remembering God is always present with us day or night so any moment can become a sanctuary of prayer.

Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or weep this night, and give your angels charge over those who sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous; and all for your love’s sake. Amen. – from Evening Prayer, Book of Common Prayer

 

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Mar 24 2013

A Prayer Booklet for Holy Week

With Palm Sunday, we enter into the Passion week, a Holy Week, remembering the Lord’s final days and building in anticipation toward the Resurrection.

For the world, this is much like any other week, and paradoxically, for ministers and others working in Christian contexts, it can be a week with little time for prayer and reflection.

To counter-act what feels like a break-neck race to Easter, I long to pause and rest in ‘unforced rhythms of grace’; to walk with Jesus through these days and let his Spirit transform my DNA; to practice a new way of thinking by remembering my small story in the midst The Story; to be patient on the hard days before the Glory, even as I learn to be patient in the whole of an often Holy Saturday life.

We live in death. We see it all around.

We live in-between. We are residents of  the Now but Not yet of the coming Kingdom. We live in that moment of baptism, under the water, the moment between death and resurrection.

Yet we also live resurrected in promise and hope, taking in that wonderful first gasp of earthly air as we rise from the baptismal water. One day we will take in that full sweet heavenly breath as we rise with Jesus.

I’m a rushing wind through life right now, a whirlwind of activity blowing through, a Tasmanian Devil of the old cartoons, and I’m not remembering to breathe earth’s air, and even less of heaven.

Last night at 3am, I woke to blessed silence and lit a candle and made some tea and journalled the Spirit’s prayer in me: Your life is wonderful–two awesome jobs and a wonderful community–but it is not sustainable. Pray and reflect, but use your night hours to sleep and learn to pause during the day. 

Let Me be the wind and you breathe Me.

I’ve read enough books on prayer and gotten myself into this kind of pickle too many times to know that pausing in the midst of being a one-woman tornado of activity is easier said than done.

But I also know that our rich prayer tradition offers centuries of helps for just such a situation.

One way to pause, to mark the days and hours of Holy Week, or any week, is to join with the wider Church in the Divine Office, or Liturgy of the Hours. For centuries, the Office was the prayer of  Benedictine monks and sisters, but then the Office moved into the lives of laypeople.

This week I will take a couple moments to pause and pray the Hours. Would you join me?

Here is a simple Liturgy of the Hours  for Morning, Noon, and Compline prayer, starting with Palm Sunday evening.  It offers a pattern based on the full Liturgy of the Hours, some simple chants, and scripture passages from The Message translation of the Bible.

I invite you to mark this week with me as different from the world’s calendar, to enter into the Now, but Not Yet, to pause and rest, and breathe in the wind of the Spirit as we are caught up in our Savior’s story.

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If you want to print the PDF, select the file and choose booklet settings on your printer. It should print two pages horizontally on  8.5 x 11 paper in the proper order so you can fold and staple it. Or enjoy it as a digital prayer book on your phone or tablet.

 

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