As I considered where to begin writing about spiritual practices that prepare us to recognize our encounters with God in contemplation, community, and Creation, I was a bit paralyzed by all of the potential places to start. I began to reflect on my own journey and the initial practices that reconnected me with God. After a long season in which I neglected my relationship with God, a season in which the presence of God was at best unrecognized and more honestly unwelcome, I slowly awakened once more to the presence of God in the liturgical worship service at an Army chapel. Several years later, it was the liturgical tradition of the Daily Office that provided stability and comfort through a fifteen month deployment. It was this practice of Morning and Evening Prayer that opened the eyes of my heart to encounter God in the desert, to experience Peace in the midst of war. The Daily Office gave me words to pray when I was out of words and the call to pray when I did not feel like praying. I will start writing about spiritual practices with the spiritual practice that is foundational for me. I pray that in the coming months you will be able to look back on your spiritual journey and describe the way the God called you back into awareness of His Presence.
“It dawned on me that the liturgy was connecting me to a long and ancient line of believers.” Ian Morgan Cron, Chasing Francis
The rhythm of daily liturgical prayer has a long history. Deuteronomy calls Israel to pray and rehearse the way of God in their houses as they sat, as they walked, as they went to bed and as they rose in the morning. The Psalmist speaks of prayer seven times a day. Daniel is thrown into the lion’s den for his faithful rhythm of praying three times per day. In Acts, we find the early church continuing in the prayers and Peter receives a vision from God during his time of midday prayer. Later, the monasteries adopted the seven times of prayer and established the liturgical pattern for prayer. When the English reformation and the Book of Common Prayer broke down the barriers between the religious and the secular allowing the common people to experience religious devotion previously confined to the monastery, the seven monastic hours were condensed into two offices of Morning and Evening Prayer.
“The collects, the Prayers of the People, the Lord’s Prayer, the Psalms, and other forms of liturgical prayer teach us what to desire and what to expect from God, give us language with which to approach God, and, through constant use, dig the spiritual aqueducts through which the living waters of the Spirit are released in our lives and prayers.” – David deSilva in Sacramental Life: Spiritual Formation Through the Book of Common Prayer
The Prayer Book describes the Daily Office as “the established rites by which, both corporately and individually, God’s people encounter the whole of the Holy Scriptures, daily confess their sins and praise Almighty God, and offer timely thanksgivings, petitions, and intercessions.” As we confess the “deceits and desires” of our own hearts which lead us away from God, we ask God to shape us according to His will. As we encounter the story of God and His people in the daily readings, the Psalms, and the Canticles, both our expectations of God and our language to approach God are formed as we learn to praise God in the midst of flames from the Song of the Three Young Men, as we sing the promises of God in the Magnificat and the Benedictus, as we speak to God through the full range of human emotions and circumstances in the Psalms. As we pray the collects of the weeks and seasons, we learn a language of prayer that invites us to see the character of God revealed in Scripture to the challenges and circumstances of our lives.
One of the beauties of the discipline of the Daily Office for me is the way that I am led to allow the Scriptures that I would rather avoid confront me, the way that I am called to pray in ways that I would rather resist, the way that I am given words when I have no others, the way that I am challenged to invite my day into my prayer, and the way that slowly I am formed in such a way that my prayer shows forth into my day.
The instructions and options in the Prayer Book can be challenging even for those familiar with the tradition. Although I love the feel of books, for the Daily Office, I prefer the convenience of the online version available at legereme.com or bcp2019.com. For those who like to listen, several daily podcasts of Morning and Evening Prayer are available, including this one. The Pray Daily book available from Christ Church Plano provides a condensed version of Morning, Noon, Evening, and Bedtime prayers for each day of the week. This easy to use book provides a terrific way for individuals to begin the practice of daily liturgical prayer and a great way for families to pray together.