Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Prayer

Ordinary Time

Time to be interactive again. I've been thinking like a pastoral theologian.

Okay, I talk often about about the practice known as "praying the hours," or alternatively, "the liturgy of the hours," "fixed hour prayer," and "the Daily Office," or simply, "the Office." For a short definition, go here.

I have questions. I'd like to know whether or not you engage this discipline.

If so:

How did you discover the practice? Who introduced you?
How long have you done it? What version do you pray?
What's your assessment of it as a helpful practice, in terms of your own experience?

If not:

Have you heard of this practice before? What were/are your first impressions?
Have you tried it? Did you at one time practice it and stop?
Would you consider beginning the practice? Why or why not?

I want to hear. Go nuts.

22 comments:

Richard of Chico said...

I discovered Morning Prayer in the Episcopal Church as a little kid in the old days when Eucharist was only celebrated once a month. By the third grade I was a boy chorister and was singing the Venite, canticles, and responses with joy. By high school we were a eucharistic parish and Morning Prayer was long forgotten.

In any event, I had no idea that it was meant to be a daily spiritual discipline.

In college I fled the Episcopal Church for an evangelical college. Ironically, I fell into a nest of young evangelical anglo-catholics.

One day we held an "alternate chapel" (We got chapel credit while not attending the hymn sing and speaker in the gym). These anglo-catholics were conducting Morning Prayer (1928 BCP) in the lovely Prayer Chapel on campus. I was in the midst of trying to figure out my place in the church at that time. Was I, against my better sense, an Anglican after all?

As it was, when we got to the Venite, I had a strange "warming of the heart" (well, OK, maybe not full on Wesleyan, but I did feel something), and said to myself: "This is it. I'm home."

Thus the Daily Office has had an important part in my life, especially Morning Prayer. (I love the Phos and canticles of Evening Prayer and the beauty of Compline as well, but am not as faithful in praying them.

Generally I use the Prayer Book Offices out of a single volume containing the liturgy, Psalms, lessons, and collects under one cover. I find having to mark a BCP, bible, hymnal etc. each morning a deterent to saying the office.

When possible, I like to sing the office with a simplified Anglican chant for the psalm and plainsong canticles. My most enriching time saying the office was when I was on a multi-priest parish and two of us sang the office each morning together. I'm alone now, though.

I will say more when I get into the office (not the Daily Office, the place I pile papers on a desk) and am able to recharge my computer.

A said...

I first read/learned about the ancient practice of "praying the hours" or "office" in The Cloister Walk (Yeah the source of a lot of stuff for me; I'm like a broken record, I know....). This was years before I started it. I started to pray the office regularly in late 2003 or early 2004 (I can't remember exactly.), when I saw a friend of mine using Celtic Daily Prayer, and I thought I would try it out. I prayed daily with CDP for several months, and then switched very briefly over to Phyllis Tickles The Divine Hours (same friend introduced me to this also)

About this time, I was starting to seriously hang with the Benedictines, and once I had prayed the liturgy of the hours with the monks, CDP and Divine Hours--not that their is anything wrong with them, I consider them great "introductory" manuals to the practice--just were't enough for me anymore. As I went deeper with the practice, I needed to pray whole Psalms, not just pieces of them, and I needed to start systematically praying my way through all 150 of them, as is the practice of monastics, as well as anyone who prays with the four volume official "Liturgy of the Hours."

Until recently, I have prayed the Liturgy of the Hours using Benedictine Daily Prayer, published Liturgical Press, the publishing arm of my beloved St. John's Abbey, and which closely follows the particular pattern/version of the Office which the monks at St. John's Abbey pray, including many of their hymns and litanies. I have done this because as one of their oblates, I have naturally wanted to pray as much in unity with them as possible.

But I would also like to pray in unity with my brothers and sisters in the Catholic Church, so recently I have picked up 2 volumes of the "Liturgy of the Hours" (eventually I'll get all 4 of those expensive buggers), and have begun to alternate some between that and Benedictine Daily Prayer.

I often say that what is so helpful/necessary about this practice for me is that it gives a "holy rhythm" to my days. It roots my life in the liturgy. It provides a built in "slowing" and a vehicle for contemplation and meditation as I pause at certain points of the day. And it is a springboard to personal prayers beyond the liturgical, that quite honestly, I probably would not pause to pray if I had not made a habit of the office. And one of the greatest "effects" of praying the liturgy of the hours on my life/faith/growth/discipleship has been that something has started to happen that has never happened before in all my years as a Christian--something that I admired and was in awe of when I first started praying with the monks...I noticed that they were praying entire psalms from memory--I've begun to memorize major portions of the Psalms.

How could immersion in the scripture not change a person over the course of time?

Is any more persuasive reason needed?

Sorry to be so long winded.

Peaqce

Chris T. said...

I prayed the Hours on and off through the last couple years of college and for a year after. Until the last year, it was definitely more off than on, and even in the last year it was spotty. I used Phyllis Tickle's books.

I think it would be really meaningful in community, especially with some chant, but I found it too difficult to get beyond the text alone. I just felt like I was reading some text every day, and too much changed from day to day and week to week for me to really get into a rhythm.

I find the Jesus Prayer useful from a pastoral perspective, because it's so easy and has such depth of meaning. It helps that there are tons of resources for it as well (The Way of a Pilgrim, Centering on the Lord Jesus by George Maloney, SJ).

Personally, though, the rosary and daily Mass are more or less the basis of my spiritual practice.

Chris T. said...

I just caught Antony's comment after I posted mine. Even though I found the Hours challenging to connect to my spiritual life, I agree wholeheartedly that constant, daily exposure to Scripture is crucial. I follow a calendar for reading through the whole Bible once a year that also hits each Psalm twice. Whatever spiritual practices one finds most meaningful, it's important to read Scripture faithful and get through the whole Bible every several years at least.

J Hearne said...

I "discovered" it through some friends (including Kyle) and through my own exploration of Christian things outside of the tradition I grew up in.

I've done it for almost a year now.

I pray the version that I have in my BCP, mostly.

It has been formative for me in that it grounds me in something regular and immersing. I find, even more, that my "vocabulary of faith" is developing. As I dwell in prayer and scripture, my life is changed by what I am immersed in.

Richard of Chico said...

Where was I?...

Chris and Antony make points that I myself would make. Nevertheless, a couple more from me.

Sometimes when I run dry I turn to another form of the Office, perhaps simplified, such as the two week cycle published (I believe) by the folks at St. John's Abbey for Benedictine Oblates. I think it was titled "Benedictine Prayer". (I loaned it to someone and didn't get it back.) The simplified format is helpful when I have trouble slogging through the readings.

Essential to me are decent translations of the psalms and canticles. While the '79 BCP translation is not as felicitous as the older BCPs, it tends to be better than some of the truly horrid Catholic translations out there. If I were forced to do the Office with something like the New American Bible, I would brush up on my high school Latin and dust off my Vulgate.

What is both challenging and helpful to me is making sure that I read all the truly awful parts of the lectionary as scripture. If I am going to read I Chronicles merely sitting at my desk one incredibly boring day (why else would I do it otherwise?) I would read it as a bemused post-liberal unaware of just how higher critical and dismissive my reading glasses are.

When I read the same text in the midst of the Office it is scripture: The Word of the Lord, dammit! It is me and the text in single combat near the banks of the Jabbock, wrestling until I am both wounded and blessed.

I understand the question about my experience and the usefulness of the practice, but I must say that I am tempted to ask instead: "Air. What is your assessment of it as a helpful gas, in terms of your own experience?"
"Well, sometimes I wish the farmers would not burn off the rice straw and filling it with smoke, but all in all I'm pretty happy with it and I have never seriously considered stopping breathing for any extended period."

It is a part of my tradition. It is who we are and what we do. Do I get a lot out of it? Probably more than I am aware of. Is it sometimes a pain? Yep.

Perhaps if I were a Baptist I would be found doing my morning "quiet time". But I'm not. As I am now, I am in the Anglican tradition.

A said...

Richard writes:
"It is who we are and what we do. Do I get a lot out of it? Probably more than I am aware of. Is it sometimes a pain? Yep."

Yeah, an excellent point that I am glad somebody made. The Benedictines would say the same; in fact I've as much as heard some of them say so.

"Who we are and what we do" indeed!

-mike- said...

I am not super consistent in it, especially as of late. Life has been so overwhelmingly busy, I have been spiritually lazy. I'm working on that.

I think I found the liturgy of the hours with a combination of Kyle, Tony Jones, and Ian Brown (an unusual mix, to say the least)

I was very confused as how to start. Is there a right way? A wrong way? What if I mess with and change it a bit, is that bad? Etc. This went on for sevral months and I finally decided to start asking questions to people who knew more than I (duh)

Yah. That's all, I guess.

Eric said...

I discovred the hours from Father Alan and "soon to be Bishop Kyle".

I have both the four volume LOH set and also the Daily Office published by the Episcopal Church - it has everything - prayers, scriptures, Psalter, etc all in one volume.

The LOTH was at first a bit cumbersome but once I learned the cadence I found it to be life giving.

The Episcopal Daily Office is simpler but does not offer some of the additional readings [church fathers, etc] that the LOTH offers.

I also like the fact that it gives you the texts in blocks without verse markings and the like. As a pastor I so often exegete the Scriptures without allowing them to exegete my life.

It has been a wonderful tool.

Eric

Anonymous said...

I discovered "praying the hours" one day several years ago. Sadly, I completely lost my faith the Thursday after that.

Since then, I discovered that "The Hours" starring Nicole Kidman is fucking boring.

fernando said...

None user here,

Coming from a Catholic switched to Evangelical background I was skeptical, but I tried it whilst at King's College London. I was surprised at how comfortable it felt and it became part of my spirituality for about 2.5 years. However, it didn't work for me, creating time and other problems. I have since gone back to something more connected to journalling and daily exegesis practice I had before, but the tone of that has changed. I still seek out readings for the high seasons though. I guess I'm a hybrid.

Josh said...

I'll be honest... I've heard of it, but have never tried it, nor known anyone who has. This is a very interesting discussion for me and I look foward to learning more about "praying the hours". Thanks for the enlightenment. (By the way, your link says to "click here" to learn more, but there's no link)

Aidan said...

I was introduced to the office in college by the local Episcopal rector and by a good friend (now a priest himself). The latter and I used to find a local park bench and pray Evening Prayer (from the 1979 BCP).

In graduate school I joined the brothers of SSJE as often as I could for their prayers. The warmth and depth they brought to the office is still with me.

I have prayed various parts off and on since then, using it most particularly as a Lenten discipline. However, I find it rather dry to say it alone (as Fr. Chris said above, it becomes something of a rote recitation of limited inspiration), and more useful as communal offering. Most of all I miss the companionship of my friend. If I had others to say it with I think I would find it more valuable.

Now I am occasionally called upon to lead Morning Prayer on Sunday for my old parish home (who only have a part-time priest). It has been very rewarding to say the office in community, and to teach people of its value (even as I myself struggle to appreciate it). One of the great benefits is that I too am now realizing (quite to my surprise) how many of the psalms and canticles I now know by memory and can summon to active thought even in the most stressful of moments.

The 1979 BCP has a pared down version in its Daily Devotions for Individuals and Families. I often turn to these, when the complete office seems somewhat pondersome.

Richard of Chico said...

Blessed patronal, Aidan.

Aidan said...

Thank you kind sir (in more ways than one).

*Christopher said...

How did you discover the practice?

While doing research on monasticism and early Christian practices.

Who introduced you?

I figured it out on my own using the Roman Catholic version of the Office and then deepened the practice while I was in contact with Benedictine monks when I was discerning if religious life was my calling.

How long have you done it?

12 years

What version do you pray?

Currently, I use the Office as found in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer.

What's your assessment of it as a helpful practice, in terms of your own experience?

The beauty of the Office is that its not about getting a little "woo woo" or an experience so hankered after these days, but gives a regular rhythm that frames my day godwardly reminding me that the everyday ordinariness of life is the place in which God is at work in my life, so remember to greet everyone and every task as Christ. In terms of experience, the Office would seem boring to those looking for an experience rather than a lifelong practice of reorientation that ever-so-slowly shifts our mind to Christ's. In our household, the rhythm of the Office is sorely missed when my partner and I don't at least pray the Office together once during the day, so it really is the heart of our life as a baptized household along with regular contemplative prayer practice. Personally, I find Compline especially powerful in confessing my sins at the end of the day and gives us an opportunity for reconciliation so that the sun doesn't set on our anger.

Richard of Chico said...

I forgot to mention a good resource for a simplified Office for starting out or when the slogging through needs a short rest. It is an Episcopal one week cycle of four daily offices (MP, Noon, EP, & Compline) called "Hour by Hour" published by Forward Movement Press. It is an attractive little volume with a ribbon to mark your place.

Kyle said...

Thanks for the thoughtful comments, everyone. They're instructive for me.

Ha, Richard, do Anglicans ever call themselves "reverts," like formerly lapsed Roman Catholics do? :0)

I share your appreciation for the BCP Offices, but I find the BCP itself a pain to use. I would also love to learn a simple chanting method. Do you know where I could find CDs/MP3s to practice?

I also appreciate your comments about the Office teaching us to treat the Bible (even the difficult bits) as the Word of God.

A., thanks for sharing your "sojourn" through various prayer books. I think your point about the Office "slowing" us and putting us into a formative rhythm is very well made.

Hello, Chris T.! Thanks for your perspective. You point out something that might be a helpful difference between different Office liturgies: it can be a good and even a needful thing to pray more of the same things every time. I think that's why I like the BCP: the offices include the same (smaller) set of canticles over and again.

J Hearne, the "vocabulary of faith" could make for a good essay.

Mike, did you check out the "How-To Guide" for the Office that Bryan Sherwood recently made?

Eric, I like that: "...I so often exegete the Scriptures without allowing them to exegete my life." It's a good question to ask ourselves.

Anon., I find most Nicole Kidman films to be at least creepy, if not boring. Like "Birth." Anybody seen that one? Shudder

Josh, thanks for chiming in. I fixed that link. :0)

Welcome to the blog, Aidan.

I think that's a helpful point about memory and practicing it in community - it's quite a bit more difficult without other people.

Thanks for commenting, Fernando and Christopher. There are a lot of good thoughts here and I just don't have anything to add...!

Aaron Patton said...

I am Catholic, age 17. I found out about the Liturgy of the Hours, suprisingly, one day during confession. My priest just got done praying it in the church and then went to hear confessions. For my penance, he told me to read the reading from the diary of St. John Brebeuf. I went out and read it and then started looking through the book and really getting interested in it.

This was only about 3 weeks ago.

I talked to the priest about it and he helped me buy my own copies. I have the 4 volume set of the 1975 Liturgy of the Hours published by Catholic Book Publishing Co.

They arrived last week and, after I learned how to pray them properly, I fell in love with this form of prayer.

I try to pray the Morning Prayer, Day Prayer (usually at lunch), Evening Prayer, and then Night Prayer.

Next year I am entering the seminary so I will be praying them all.

Kyle said...

Thanks, Aaron, I appreciate your comment. Thanks for reading. I'm glad you've discovered the practice - to some of us on the other side of things, it seems the best kept secret in the Catholic Church, which nobody was actually hiding. :0) I try to pray the morning office with my housemate after breakfast every morning, and we'll often do it in the evening as well, especially when we have folks over for dinner.

Cheers

Janine said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Janine said...

Hi, I know this is late, but perhaps you are still interested. I discovered praying the hours through reading about Orthodox theology. My background is Orthodox Christian. Currently I attend my local Episcopal parish's evening services as often as I can. Because I work at home, the discipline of the office is helpful, plus "remembering God" is important - it works, in my opinion, on levels we don't necessarily know. But I do feel a changed atmosphere in my home when I pray the hours at my own icons in an area I have for them. I cannot tell you why, I leave it in the category of mystery. I pray a short service at home I learned from a Greek Orthodox priest (it's on the web).

I have a website where I do my own daily commentary on the Episcopal Daily lectionary, you might be interested:
http://dailyexegesis.blogspot.com

Thanks for helping me to explore, best from Janine