Prayer means many different things to different people, and there are many kinds of prayer. Let us say, for our purposes, that to pray is to address oneself to Deity. For most Christians, this is a practice in which they engage at least occasionally; for many, it is part of their daily routine.
At times, prayer may flow out of what one is reading, or out of one’s life circumstances. At times, our hearts are beyond the ability to form our own words. At such times it is good to have the words of others as a guide, as we discussed in Week 2, Puritan Prayers. We are exhorted to “pray without ceasing” (I Thessalonians 5:17) and many of us find that very hard at the best of times.
How might we better incorporate prayer into our daily routine?
Praying at certain times of the day, praying through the psalms, praying historic prayers of the Christian faith–this has been a part of Christian worship tradition for well over a thousand years. It is often called Fixed-Hour prayer.
The Liturgy of the Hours, along with the Eucharist, has formed part of the Church’s public worship from the earliest times. Christians of both Eastern and Western traditions (including the Catholic, Eastern Orthodox,Oriental Orthodox, Anglican, and Lutheran churches) celebrate the Liturgy of the Hours under various names. (Source: Wikipedia, “Liturgy of the Hours”)
This ancient practice of the Church has gained new interest, at least partially through the tremendous work of Phyllis Tickle, whose three-volume The Divine Hours comprehensively lays out all the prayers and readings for four major times of prayer each day: Morning, Midday, Vespers (evening), and Compline (just before going to sleep). Each volume is attractively and simply laid out, with a ribbon marker (although at least two are useful, since the compline prayers are fixed for a month at a time (there is just one for each day of the week), while the others are different every day.
I especially like the variety of Christian writers whose work is included, once or twice a day. Both Psalms and New Testament readings, and the lyrics of a hymn or poem, are also a part of the daily cycle. Each “office” takes five to fifteen minutes to read, depending on whether one includes one’s own petitions, meditates on the Scripture, sings the hymn, etc.
The introductory material at the front of each volume is very helpful and should be read first. For the individual who would like to try this for a shorter season, there are also extract volumes of these prayers just for the Advent/Christmas or Lenten/Easter season. A pocket edition for travel provides a week’s worth of prayers for all seven offices each day.
But what if you’re out and about and don’t want one more thing to carry? Now you can access all these prayers on the ExploreFaith website or at Vineyard Church of Ann Arbor‘s website. Following the link, you select your own time zone and are taken to the appropriate selection for the current time of day. There are also iPhone apps–the link is to one specifically for Catholics; at the Vineyard Church website you can get the app for Phyllis Tickle’s version, which is non-denominational. I would recommend using the app in conjunction with a reminder notice (some discreet sound) which would prompt you to stop what you’re doing to pray. After using my three-volume set on and off for ten years or so, I’m excited to explore this new technology!
Praying the “hours” isn’t meant to be about legalism, but to keep our hearts and minds centered on Christ, while uniting us to the worldwide Church. One of the online applications also allows you to see how many other Christians around the world are accessing the prayers for that office at the same time you are.
If your prayer life needs to be re-invigorated, if you are seeking more discipline or structure to your daily walk, or if you just need the encouragement of participating in an ancient and ecumenical form of devotion, why not consider praying the Hours for the next ten days between now and Easter?
“I Need Thee Every Hour” is an appropriate hymn to go with this post. Here’s a really unusual version arranged and sung a cappella by Sam Robson…times nine!