Lenten Reflection: Praying the Daily Office
February 29, 2012 § 3 Comments
Many years ago, I decided to try to “take on” something for Lent rather than give something up. Not that I was ever a good giver-upper—abstinence and sacrifice are not among my strong suits. In any event, one Lent a long time ago (under the guidance of the Spirit, I now realize), I decided to start reading and praying the daily office of Morning Prayer as set forth in the Book of Common Prayer. All I needed were a Bible and a Prayer Book. I think in those days I used the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, although I have since moved on to a variety of translations of both the Hebrew scriptures and the Christian scriptures.
The structure of the office, in both morning and evening, includes an opening rite which can be modified in several ways, the psalm or psalms appointed for that day, a reading from the Old Testament or Apocrypha, a canticle (a song from scripture or from the early church), a reading from the New Testament, followed by another canticle, the Apostles’ Creed, the Lord’s Prayer and other prayers, and a closing. The whole thing takes about twenty or twenty-five minutes.
Since I began this “taking on,” I realize that I have rarely missed a day in what has now become a morning ritual and part of the rhythm of my life. I find myself following the same pattern, whether in a favorite chair in my apartment, sitting in a hotel room and looking out the window at an unfamiliar landscape, visiting family here or in Italy, or on the deck of a beach house on Fire Island. There is usually a cup of coffee in my morning time with God, although I don’t start sipping it until the first reading.
Since I’m praying by myself, I omit things like “The Lord be with you. And also with you.” They of course don’t make any sense outside of a communal context. And I also ignore the “posture rubrics” about sitting and standing and kneeling. When a person is praying Morning or Evening Prayer alone, a different rhythm emerges, one that is unique to that person. I find, for example, that some of the appointed prayers have become so familiar that I sometimes breathe them without articulating the text (“a sigh too deep for words”). And at the point where other intercessions are allowed, I offer my own prayers—prayers for my family and other loved ones, both living and dead; prayers for people I don’t know (I’m in the St. Luke’s online prayer group); and prayers for myself, as I delight in or grapple with my steps on the trail of my earthly pilgrimage.
And, oh yes, the Bible readings. The Bible readings! The appointed readings in the two-year cycle have given me untold knowledge and treasures, which I have visited again and again over the years. The daily office lectionary in the Prayer Book covers all of the New Testament and huge amounts of the Hebrew scriptures, and a person praying twice a day will pray the entire Psalter in seven weeks. Or the Psalter can be covered in fourteen weeks if praying once a day; use the evening psalms in the second seven weeks if praying in the morning, or vice versa.
Many things have happened in my life since I began praying the daily office: Many people whom I loved (and still love) have died, and many have been born. I have dealt with the fearful challenge of being down-sized out of a job and not knowing what was coming next. I am now dealing with the unexpected challenges of living into the new paradigm of retirement and creating a new structure for my life. There are moments of great joy in my daily time in prayer, but there can also be moments of anxiety, grief, and doubt. Jesus reminds us, especially in Lent, that the wilderness experience and the Good Friday moments are part of our humanity.
I am thankful for my daily prayer journey, even when the Sprit takes me places I wouldn’t have chosen to go, were I in control. I wouldn’t give up this journey for anything in the world, and I commend it to anyone who wants to “take on” something in this Lenten season.