Saturday, April 21, 2012

Lent in Review: Praying the Daily Office

Happy Easter! Remember that Easter is 50 days and not one Sunday. Keep the festivities going.

I've had an opportunity to reflect on the Lent now past, and gleam a few brief lessons I didn't quite expect. As one (of my many) lenten disciplines I said the Daily Office everyday: Morning Prayer, Noonday Prayer, Evening Prayer, Compline. Usually by myself, occasionally with other people, sometimes at work, sometimes at home, sometimes in very strange places. In quick numerated form, here is what I learned:  

1. Prayer gives a certain rhythm to the day. Prayer orders the day. It paces things out in a way that feels right. Setting off certain times of the day as holy claims time itself as part of creation that needs to be consecrated to God. Not to mention, it enriches our day in manifold ways.

2. Examining your conscience and confessing your sins makes you a more sensitive, attentive person. Until I started doing it everyday, I never quite realized how much time the Daily Office prayer spends confessing sins to God. When I spend time doing this, I reflect more on my day. I become more attentive to what I'm doing during the day and how I'm relating with people, and I'm more likely to clean up my act a little. I think in today's ideology, confessing sins sometimes gets a bad wrap. It can be a powerful spiritual practice.  

3. Sometimes all you can offer to God is sitting your ass in that chair and reading the words in the prayer book. When you do anything 4 times a day for 40 days, you're bound to go through some streaks where it's pretty tedious. There are many times when I'm not at all in the mood. Sometimes I can get myself in the mood, sometimes not. There were plenty of times when I had to restart the Our Father or the Creed 3 different times, because of whatever daydreaming tangent I'd get lost in. But I think there's something powerfully forming about discipline. If you bring yourself to something everyday, it's bound to start shaping you.  

4. Failing miserably isn't always the worst thing in the world. There were plenty of times where I forgot my prayerbook or were otherwise prevented from doing the prayers proper. What I'd usually do to compensate was to start praying a string of whatever prayers I've managed to memorize. I took to this habit pretty naturally, and found myself praying things in my head all the time, almost involuntarily. It's akin to having a song stuck in your head. Reflecting on these words all the time really helps one find peace in the day.

Yes, and skipping one always made for good confession fodder at the next prayer time. It sounds cynical, sure, but I'm being sincere. Here, I draw inspiration from the saints who had terrible mistakes and failures all the time. In their stories, their failures are always an occasion for God's mercy, and not simply for scandal. In daily prayer, and our Lenten disciplines more broadly, we encounter our own limits and also God's grace made manifest.

I suppose I could go on but these seem the most worth discussing. I'll conclude this little post with the words that conclude the Daily Office: The almighty and merciful Lord, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, bless up and keep us.

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