The Search Committee for the 11th Bishop of Georgia just completed a discernment retreat with potential candidates to be our next bishop. As part of that retreat, we prayed Morning and Evening Prayer together every day. It was the only part of the day, except for meals which immediately followed our prayers, when everyone present was together. We came across campus from wherever we had been just before to gather in the Chapel, and there, for a few moments, we prayed together the prayers that Christians have prayed for centuries all over the world. I think these times in the Chapel were my favorite part of the week.
Back home now, I mostly pray the Office (that collection of prayers said throughout the day) by myself. It’s not the same as saying them communally with others, but they still are sustaining and helpful. I’ve been reflecting on the experiences of praying during the retreat and now, and I’ve mainly been thinking about why we pray the Daily Office at all. I’ll offer three quick thoughts about that in the hopes that, if you’re not already doing so, you might think about adding these prayers to your own life.
Why would we pray virtually the same prayers over and over again each day? First, daily prayer is a discipline. Sticking to a set schedule of prayers not because we necessarily feel like praying at that moment but because it’s time to pray helps us establish an orderly spiritual life. Regular repetition provides structure to our lives, but in this case praying simply because it’s time to pray reminds us (or perhaps teaches us for the first time) that our lives are not simply our own. They belong to God, and no matter what else we find ourselves doing, there are times that we need to pause and make room for God’s presence to take over and have our full attention.
Secondly, praying the Daily Office means following a set pattern of reading from the Psalms and other passages from Scripture. Despite what you may have been told, if you go to church every Sunday for the three years of the Lectionary cycle, you will not hear the entire Bible read aloud. In the daily cycle of the lectionary we hear the books of the Bible read through in narrative sequence, so that we are immersed in the flow of the sacred story of God and God’s people. Their stories become our stories; we become better connected to the stories of our faith.
Lastly (not really, but I said I’d stick to just three), praying the Daily Office connects us to other Christians praying around the world and through time. I may be the only person in my house or parish office saying Morning or Evening Prayer on any given day, but at that same time (or very near it) those same prayers are being offered all over, in a multitude of languages and methods. I may be the only one i can see or hear, but I’m not praying alone.
Clergy are expected to pray the Office each day; it’s one of the obligation of our orders. Nathan, who is preparing for Holy Orders, also already follows that discipline. So if you’re interested in learning how to pray the Daily Office, I hope you’ll talk either to him or to me about it. We would be delighted to sit down with you, teach you how it works, and show you what resources are available to help you begin or continue this discipline.
Who knows? We might end up with a group of us who come across town from wherever we had been just before to gather at St. Michael’s, and there, for a few moments at a time, gather together to pray the prayers that Christians have prayed for centuries all over the world.