When someone is ordained they make a canological obligation to pray daily. For most deacons and priests this takes the form of an Daily Office. Coming from the Jewish tradition of saying ones prayers at certain times of the day, it means that the life of a priest (or even a lay person) is embedded in prayer. This ensures some variety and seasonal change for those who are saying it. Ensuring that not only do they not get bored that hopefully they are also fed throughout the liturgical year.Prayer is something that is difficult for anyone, but hopefully the offices are something that can sustain you in even the difficult times.
By living in community at theological college it is expected that we will attend Morning and Evening prayer within college during the weekdays. As many of the community know, I have really struggled with saying the Offices. This is not just in a ‘I can’t be bothered to go’ kinda way. But even if I am physically there, I cannot say the words. Its not that I have a problem with the words, but it’s hard to constantly find them spiritually nourishing. This isnt a unique feature of what we currently use (Common Worship) this is something I have found with all of the various forms of Daily Prayer that I have discovered. Through various stages of my Christian life I have encountered everything from the Franciscan Daily Office to the Catholic Divine Office. Thankfully though, most forms of Daily Office leave time for your own intercessions, so even if it feels as though the words are tough, you can add your own in. There’s a certain misery that comes from being in a room full of people whose heads are bowed in prayer when all you can think about is how this isnt working for you. It can almost feel as if you are broken, that you can’t ‘pray as well’ as the people around you. Prayer is something that is very personal and always in flux. Many people find that their prayer life goes in ‘seasons’, and in this current season my internal self is kicking against the structure of the offices. For whatever reason that may be, and I’m not sure that I need a reason.
It’s important to feel as though the offices are building for you, even if the structure isnt working. I got into the habit of spending time journalling in the chapel before evening prayer. That way I could both spend time with Jesus in a way that suited me, but I could also feel more engaged by the time the community joined me to pray. This worked really well for me for a while, and then the boundaries between pre-evening prayer and evening prayer started to blur and I would use my journal in the offices. I used a form of doodling prayer that was introduced to me by my spiritual director called ‘Praying in Colour‘. For me it combined two of my great loves, prayer and creativity. It was a way to carry those people who I had brought with me into prayer, and pray for them in a way that I felt gave them the time and thought they deserve. This was my attempt at reclaiming the time that we give to the offices in a way that felt spiritually nourishing for me. Even if I wasn’t joining in with the same words as the people around me I was determined to keep going to the offices. I would take my Daily Office book, journal and pens and either ‘Pray in Colour’ or meditate on a line from one of the Psalms. This worked really well, but then I began to become self conscious that I would be distracting to those around me. A problem quickly solved by sitting at the very back of the chapel amongst the late comers, and those carrying small babies in slings. Although I was very happy to still be at prayer in this way, I still couldn’t decide why it didn’t feel quite right.
The thing that I hadn’t really clocked along this way is that community prayer is as much about prayer as it is about the community. A good friend of mine mentioned to me that actually half of the reason she gets out of bed in the morning is to be apart of this community of prayer. We are so blessed that we have the opportunity to be able to say our prayers in this way- it is the foundation of our lives here. I hadn’t even thought about it in this way before. I was so concerned that it was all about me and my relationship with God that I forgot about how the community functions. The good thing about the Daily Offices, is that even if you are physically alone in reciting them, that you can be sure there is a community of people praying the same words as you. The function of the offices is not always to leave us with a warm fuzzy Jesus feeling, but to serve as a platform to which we can explore all sides of our spirituality. In the same way that we go through Psalms of lament and Psalms of thanksgiving, so do we go through those same seasons in our prayer.
It is silly to think that the Offices will always function for us in the same way, because for some of us it won’t. Whatever we are feeling towards the Offices -or even prayer in general, it is important to recognise those feelings and give them to God. Now in those mornings where I am particularly grumpy with the Offices I say a little prayer to God. ‘God, I’m here today and have dragged myself in ankles trailing. But my heart is eager to be found in you and I pray that you will accept this Office for what it is- a recognition of the fact that I need you.’ I need to pray because I need Jesus. And I need the Offices because even when I feel like I can’t pray there is a community of people who are doing it on my behalf, even if they don’t know it.
I can still be found in Morning Prayer doodling amongst the whispering chanting of the Psalms. Now I know that the people around me need me, and I them- and that we all need each other and Jesus. In this community of fellowship and prayer that even if I am not able to speak the words, that simply by being present I am engaging with something bigger than all of us.
Peace and Joy.