In my last post, I talked about worship being the center of life. I quoted Eugene Peterson:
“In worship God gathers his people to himself as center: ‘The Lord reigns’ (Ps. 93:1). Worship is a meeting at the center so that our lives are centered in God and not lived eccentrically.”
Putting worship at the center means that worship isn’t limited to church services but pervades daily life. I talked in that post about anchoring practices that keep me focused on the center. Since my move I’ve been participating in a practice that’s new for me: praying the Divine Office. Officially known as The Liturgy of the Hours, the Divine Office is a prayer book that developed out of the rule Benedict of Nursia wrote in the 6th century for the monastic order he established. He set 7 times of prayer throughout the day and one at night. All but one of these times of prayer is still in regular use, though most of those who use the Divine Office don’t follow the full compliment of daily prayers. There are prayers for each of the 7 hours, each day of the year. The prayers are complied in a set of books that are rather complicated to follow, though there are phone apps that reduce the complexity. I use the Divine Office app, https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.surgeworks.divineoffice&gl=US.
I and one other resident at Barnabas House get together to pray the morning and evening prayers—lauds and vespers. I sometimes listen to the night prayer (compline) while I’m getting ready for bed. Since my prayer partner has to be at work quite early, we meet at 4:30 a.m. for morning prayer. We pray again about 5:30 in the afternoon, often joined by one or two other members of the household. Each prayer session takes about 15 minutes. Near the beginning there’s a hymn that we sing, read, or listen to, depending on how familiar we are with the music. We then take turns reading portions of the prayer, and, in between the portions, read in unison one or two short antiphons. The prayer usually includes two psalms, a canticle (i.e. a poetic Scripture passage taken from somewhere other than the book of Psalms), and a brief prose passage. Always the Scripture readings end with canticles from Luke 1: the prayer of Zechariah in the morning and the Magnificat in the evening. Then there are a few prayers for those in need, the Lord’s Prayer, and a brief concluding request.
I’ve only been following this routine for a few months, but already it’s become a well-formed habit. For most of my life I’ve used free-form prayers about situations I want to take to God, and I still do that. It’s quite a change for me to also now read prayers from a structured prayer book. These written prayers are usually much more eloquent than anything I could hope to generate. About half of the material is from the book of Psalms, which is often described as the prayer-book of the Bible. On my own, I tend to pray the same things again and again, so it’s helpful to be forced out of the well-trod paths that my spontaneous prayers usually take. It’s nice to be praying the liturgy aloud with someone else, so that my tongue and ears are being used, not just my brain. Thousands are praying the same prayers on the same day, so there’s a real sense of having contributed to a larger project. Sometimes I like to look at the app’s map of North America, which shows where others are using that resource at the same time I am.
There are some downsides to this way of praying. I notice that sometimes I read an entire psalm without paying attention or remembering what I’ve said. It would be easy to become satisfied with just having spoken the words without full assent of the heart. The prayers aren’t specific to my life or to those around me who are in need. If I don’t remember to pray for those personal concerns separately, I sometimes neglect praying for matters that are important to me.
I have come to love some aspects of the Daily Office, though. Every morning, the first words of the day are:
God, come to my assistance. Lord, make haste to help me.
And, if I listen to the night prayer, the last thing I hear spoken before bed is:
May the all-powerful Lord grant us a restful night and a peaceful death. Amen.
What wonderful bookends for the day. I don’t know how meaningful these petitions would have been when I was young, but, now that I’m late in life, they are just what I need.