As a participant in the Two-Year Academy for SpiritualFormation, I became acquainted with the ancient concept of praying the hours, also known as the Daily Office or fixed hour prayer. Rooted in scripture, and not unique to our Judeo-Christian tradition, the Office is the act of setting aside specific times of day for corporate prayer. Psalm 119:164 says: I praise you seven times a day for your righteous rules.
Many monastic communities set aside seven times a day for the entire community to pray, with a set order of worship for each Office. In my Academy, we gathered for morning, evening and night prayer each day. By the end of my two years, this rhythm of corporate prayer had worked its way into my spirit, so that even when I did not have a community to gather with for these times of prayer, I added my own voice to voices all around the world who pray the prayers that have been part of our history for centuries.
Sometimes I approach this time of prayer with great anticipation. I have experienced God’s presence in wondrous and affirming ways and it is a joy to say thank you by reciting the canticles, prayers, psalms, and scriptures for the day, the Office and the season. Many of the prayers and canticles I know by heart, a treasure trove of praise and prayer to God.
Other times, when life is hard, or I am tired, it seems that the best I can do is simply to show up, to keep the worldwide cycle of prayer going. On those days, when my heart is heavy, I am grateful for the familiar prayers, because I don’t have the words to pray.
In Ezra 3, when the foundations of the temple are laid, there is both weeping and joyful shouting. Those who remembered the former temple wept but others shouted with joy. Weeping and shouting mingled together. I wonder if that’s what God hears when we participate in the great river of prayer that is the Daily Office. There are the joyful, who are grateful for the privilege to offer their sacrifice of praise, and there are those whose offering is simply showing up, reciting the psalms and prayers from a heart of brokenness, but offering them nonetheless.
This is the communion of saints, weeping and praising together, unending, unbroken throughout the centuries, in times of persecution and times of plenty, in seasons of blessing and seasons of brokenness, in places of war and places of peace, in want or in plenty. We come with what we have to offer. We show up.