Wednesday, October 24, 2007


Recently I've been thinking about praying the Daily Office. To be honest, I've never understood the attraction toward elements of monasticism.

I wonder about moving from the freedom to be in a natural relationship of conversation with the Father into a schedule of rote prayers. But I am trying to listen to the voices of those who have experienced this and feel it is a beneficial part of their spiritual journey.

It likely doesn't have to be an either/or, in that one could do the Daily Office in addition to their relational conversation with Papa.

The rhythm and discipline could be positive if they don't become a form of religious obligation. Also, I could use some more spiritual/religious language in both my prayers and my everyday life.

I'm just not sure what my husband will think of my new habit.


Bob said...

If you look at it as a restriction of freedom or as a source of some benefit (like introducing more spiritual language), I'd recommend *not* praying the Office.

My praying the Office was a by-product of an investigation of ecclesiology.

I pray it because it is a way to connect with the Church (capital 'C') and join in the unending hymn of praise offered up by saints both here on earth and those who have gone before. When I get out of bed at 5:00 each morning for Vigils, I am not going to enrich my spiritual life; I'm conforming my life and joining with countless others who offer the same words, in the same way, at the same time, every morning.

It isn't just a technique.

Bob said...

Hmmm... This probably sounds like "you're doing it wrong and I'm doing it right". Didn't mean it that way.

I think I wanted to bring out the concept that the Office (like the Liturgy) is something that continues on with or without *me*. If we won't sing, the rocks and stones will.

The approach cannot be one of a consumer trying a new product/service. It is better thought of an individual entering in to something that is already going on.

Maria said...

I like your graphic. It reminds me not to take myself too seriously in these kinds of pursuits.

sonja said...

I have, at various times, in the last several years spent time praying the Daily Office. I really love it. I can't explain it, but it's very nourishing.

In my experience (and it's just my experience) I found that over time the words began to speak to me in a different manner. I heard different things at different times. Which probably makes me sound like a loony. But it's really rich ... in the way a poem said many times is. Does that make any sense?

Heidi Renee said...

I was raised thinking that the prayers were "rote" too - but once I started to pray I realized that I was joining with 1000's of Christians world wide who were praying those same prayers. The slow spiritual discipline has grown into a life-changing formation that has been so important in my life.

Jamie Arpin-Ricci said...

I have really struggled with praying the Office myself. I value the language and love the idea of joining so many others in a shared pattern of prayer. It just has never seemed to resonate with me. I am not questioning it's value, just sharing my personal experience.


Jeff Greathouse said...

Maybe you can explain the concept to me (us reading who have no clue) and how it would play into our life and what impact the habit would have on your hubby.

If you would be so kind :)

Anonymous said...


I have a different reaction than the others that commented. What flashed through my brain was, "Oh no, Grace has gone over to the dark side". I have friends who pray the office and quite frankly I don't understand. I think its an experience like going to a conference, a mega church, or a worship concert; but its not real life.

Cindy said...

I've been moving in that direction with the Daily Office as well. I started looking into it a little before the prayer synchroblog and have inched forward gradually. Making the sign of the cross is becoming an important ritual for me. Maybe I should say I expect that it will become so. But you're the first (or first 500 given the your readership) I've told. Including those with my last name. Shhhh. I'm not ready to go public.

Bob said...

If I may, Grace,


As far as the mechanics, the Divine Office is a cycle of prayers that are largely recitations of the Psalms and Canticles (prayers like the Magnifcat--Mary's prayer--found elsewhere in Scripture). There are also Scripture readings and at some hours, the Our Father, and intercessions/petitions for the Church. Each recitation is preceded and followed by an Antiphon (like a responsory verse).

There are 7 times during the day when prayers are said (following the 7 times daily prayer that David and Daniel and others mention). The schedule is roughly like this:

5:30 Vigils
6:30 Lauds (Morning prayer)
9:00 Terce (third hour)
12:00 Sext (sixth hour)
3:00 None (ninth hour)
5:30 Vespers (Eventide)
8:00 Compline (Nocturne)

In communities, the times are fixed. Obviously individuals have more flexibility. There are "themes" for each hour fitting to the time of day. For example, Vigils is one of expectation, Lauds is celebration of the coming light (at sunrise), Vespers consecrates the work of the day to God, Compline is for reflection and protection as we head into darkness.

Likewise each day of the week fits a certain theme and the various Liturgical seasons (Advent, Lent, Easter (not just the day, the 50 days from Easter to Pentecost), etc.) have appropriate thematic elements.

There are different Offices (Benedictine, Roman, Anglican, etc.) but they follow very similar patterns.

Most lay people do not pray the "little hours" of Terce, Sext, and None because the work day doesn't always permit it. But they are short and can be done if you want.

As far as affecting the husband, I guess he'd just have to get used to Grace carrying around a little prayer book and mumbling to herself 7 times a day (assuming she doesn't already mumble to herself).

Of course, she'll be wanting to have Sext everyday at noon--that might be different for him...

Bob said...


As far as it being like a conference and "not real life". I'd offer this.

Conferences aren't real life because they take us away from day-to-day life, set up an ideal environment, pump us full of inspiration and ideas and then let us go. Not real life.

The Office is said in the midst of real life. You stop your day at fixed times to pray. Over time this becomes a rhythm--some call it an oscillation--between work, prayer, meals, rest and recreation. If anything it provides a means to integrate the spiritual life with daily life. I pray to prepare for work, I work and generate a need for rest, I rest to be refreshed for prayer, and so on.

For me, it provides balance and structure. Guiding me to allot ample time for all aspects of life--not just a fire-hose conference fill up and then back to the grind for months...'til the next conference. Also, not pray when I feel "spiritual" and then lapse out if I don't. The cycle goes on whether "I feel like it" or not.

Sorry for high jacking the thread Grace.

grace said...

I appreciate your input. As I said, this is unfamiliar to me, so please forgive me for the things I misrepresent or don't get right.

Thanks, that is a fairly accurate depiction of how "nun-like" I actually am (although I don't smoke).

I was hoping you might comment because I thought I remembered you mentioning somewhere that you've done this. I appreciate what you said about the practice being nourishing.
I've experienced what you describe with the Lord's Prayer and other familiar Scriptures as the Spirit brings different nuances to words that I've heard many times. I can imagine that being true of the prayers also.

I appreciate you sharing your experience also. The fact that so many people like yourself find it life-changing is one of the reasons why I'm looking at this.

Thanks for sharing your perspective. I have yet to find out what my experience will be.

I don't have much of a clue, and you might get a better picture from what Bob shared, although I find that a bit intimidating.

The idea is a rhythm of prayers that are prayed in the midst of ordinary life as a spiritual discipline. Many of the prayers are familiar prayers and Psalms from Scripture, actually quite a few of my favorites that I already pray, including the Lord's Prayer.

My plan is probably more like Vespers for Dummies in comparison to what Bob outlined. I've linked the Daily Office at the Northumbria Community in my sidebar. It has Morning, Noon, Evening, and Compline Prayers. I'll do what I can to start with.

As far as my husband, this is just such a different direction than anything we have ever done. I don't know if he will do it or not. Being married, there is an aspect of sharing one another's spiritual experiences and journey, so what I do affects him too.

I probably understand your response more than any because that has been my reaction also. In the 2+ years that I've been blogging, I have always dismissed the idea as being too traditional and religious, empty of life.
In thinking about it, consider if for example you prayed the Lord's Prayer every day at noon. This could become like mealtime prayers that many of us experienced growing up, where you don't even hear the words, or it could become a moment of spiritual discipline in the midst of the day that centers and nourishes.
As I said in the post, I don't want to replace the natural, relational aspects of my prayer life. However, I can see this as a potentially useful spiritual discipline.

Wow, it shouldn't surprise me that we're on the same page with this. If you don't mind, can you tell me (and these other people) how it feels and what you have experienced as you've inched forward? My husband read this post last night. He didn't really say much. For some reason it does seem like kind of an awkward "honey guess what I'm doing now" sort of thing.

Thanks for the explanation. Apparently midday prayers have a whole new meaning.
I really appreciate your explanation of the rhythm and balance in the midst of ordinary life.
Please feel free to continue to share in this thread. I appreciate the input.

Barb said...

Honestly, my first response was like unto David's. "Grace come back to us."
I actually clicked onto today's "Daily Office" and read through this mornings. It was rich and meaningful. It spoke to where I was today and gave me words to pray for some of my kids and friends who are needing prayer today. Maybe I'll just add it to my list to read in the mornings.

dan h. said...

I always wondered what you looked like. Thanks for sharing a picture. :)

After reading Scot McKnight's "Praying With The Church" (which I highly recommend if you're like me and don't know much about it) it really helped me understand the significance of set prayers and the whole 'rhythm' aspect. But I'm a bit like Jamie, and the office just never clicked with me. Instead I have mixed and matched some different things (The Jesus Prayer, Prayer of Confession, Jesus Creed, Lord's Prayer, etc.) to use at set times to help with the rhythm aspect, and find it to be helpful.

Cindy said...

Grace, right now these prayers are a comfort to me. Because they're new to me, I do find depth and nuance in their words daily. Since there's no compulsion in that I'm participating voluntarily, I have no pressure or preconceieved notions of what should/shouldn't come of the experience. The sign of the cross is likewise a strangely comforting - and simultaneously uncomfortable- thing for me. It gives me a feeling of connectedness, but is also a phsyical reminder of the sacred nature of every moment. That is something I had lost for years, but need to regain.

I feel like my eyes are beginning to very slowly open after years of being shut tight in fear. I may just find the courage to write my own post soon. Thanks for paving the way.

Bob said...

Since I've been encouraged to say things...

For me, I was unable to pray the Office using the online versions. There were just too many distractions at the computer (check mail, any RSS feeds?, oh yeah next psalm). I also tire quickly reading electronic text.

You may want to hit a Catholic book store and ask for a Breviary or Liturgy of the Hours. There is a 4 volume mega format, a single volume super format and one I got that was titled "Shorter Christian Prayer". A little book that has Morning, Evening, Night prayers and most of the seasonal variations in a pretty readable format.

But the book allowed me to be in my quiet space, free from e-distractions. Might help if you're really making a go of it.

Another thing I did was take a retreat at a monastery or convent to learn how to pray it from "the pros". (Hospitality is one of the major elements of the Rule of Benedict and most communities make provision for the reception of guests/retreatants.) This is actually how I started and it gave me a huge jump start on understanding how it worked.

Of course, to do that, you'd really be getting serious. But prayer is serious business...

Kathryn said...

The other great thing is that, at the times when actually you DONT feel as if you are having a meaningful relationship with God, the Office gives you words to say that have sustained Christians for centuries...and the tide of prayers that is offered by the Church throughout time and space can carry you along too.
The Office is an obligation laid on Anglican priests at ordination, and I'm so thankful for that or I suspect I would have avoided it forever and missed a huge and wonderful resource.

Paddy O. said...

I've gone seasons praying and found it very nice. For me it's not a matter of replacing prayer. It's an attempt to bring a rhythm to my spiritual thinking and prayer life.

The offices are especially helpful when I feel my prayer lagging. It's not at all artificial. It's using Scripture and orderly, simple words to express what we should be expressing. It does help reshape the heart and I find it stimulating.

I'm pretty undisciplined in general, and I don't always resonate with just standard liturgy, but this is something that does seem to click. Also, it should be noted that this is something that very passionate Christians have done for a very, very long time.

It redeems time, by putting prayer as a priority. It reminds us of God regularly in the midst of our day. It gives us good words to say, that do reflect heart and mind and soul. And it teaches. Like playing scales for a musician these prayers help, not hinder, improvisation.

Phylis Tickle has a great set of books, one for each season. I just started using the Autumn/Winter one.

Volkmar said...

Alison (wife, fellow traveler) wanted the 1928 Book of Common Prayer for her birthday...which I gladly purchased.

It looks a little daunting to me, but we'll explore it none the less.

Somehow, I don't think your husband will mind the Offices, especially considering you could have taken up The Fine Art of Cussin'.


Anonymous said...

I've heard a lot of passionate reasons for praying the offices. Am I accurate in summarizing the reasons as "it feels good" or "it works for me". I'm not trying to be condescending, I'm pondering the nature of prayer. Is it as much for us as it is for God? Does God care if our prayer life is disciplined or is this something we or our pastor cares about? If praying the offices is good for the dry times, does it interfere with the rainy season? And last but not least, does God care what time we get up in the morning to pray?

paul said...

i usually pray the office when i can't be bothered or just feel far from God - otherwise i wouldn't pray at all.

grace said...

I know, it seems strange to me even considering it. Yet, I felt the same way when I started reading the prayers and blessings there. For example, I wish I had been praying the morning blessing over my kids since they were little.

LOL, there isn't much resemblance to the picture, however it does probably capture my attitude. Thanks for adding your perspective about the prayers.

I liked what you said about being free to do it without pressure or expectations. I can remember times in my life where I would have approached something like this through legalism and performance, but I'm not feeling that way about it now.

Thanks for the tips. They may be useful once I get past sticking my toe in the water.

I like the aspect of this as a discipline that isn't dependent on how I am feeling.

I especially liked your comparison to musical scales. Perhaps it is because I understand my freedom, that I now feel free to apply disciplines to my spiritual life.

I also see this as an exploration.

You won't find me being an apologist for praying the Daily Office because it's not something I would try to talk someone else into doing. In fact, my husband said he doesn't plan on doing it, and that's okay with me. It is just something I am personally exploring because I want to, not because I feel that I have to for God, my pastor, or anyone else. Knowing me, it won't be rigid.

I remember that you had a post or two about the Divine Hours.

Jeff Greathouse said...


Thanks. I was out for 2 days with a "conversation" :)

Anyhow, I did some research and came up with different hits on what was included in the prayer; that is why I asked .. which direction you were leaning.

I "rested" in some body prayer last night. It was a good time of connecting (for me).

grace said...

That's great Jeff!
I think connecting is the point, however we manage to do it.