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