Last week I was reminded of the value of praying the Daily Office.
It has been my practice for some years now to pray the Office in the morning and in the evening, and I'm pretty disciplined about it - not perfect, but very regular. The rites for morning, noonday, evening, and "bedtime" prayer, which were adapted from monastic life for use in congregation and home, are one of the great inheritances of the Anglican Prayer Book tradition. I appreciate the beauty of the collects, the ancient practice of praying the psalms, and the exposure to scripture over time. But I have to admit that it does feel rote after a while. My mind starts to wander. I'm saying the words but thinking about other things. What is the point?
It is at these times that I recall the power of repetition and the way we are formed by our habits. The Daily Office has become a habit for me. Its language and theology has begun to operate at an unconscious level. I remember how the Phos hilaron from Evening Prayer spontaneouly came to mind while watching the sunset over the ocean in Hawaii. I think of the way in which the recitation of the Apostles' Creed reminds me of my baptismal identity - my identity as a beloved son in whom God is well pleased, serving as a hedge against all the negative messages I've internalized.
Over time, prayer has changed me at a very deep level, making me more aware and more vulnerable in my relationship to the world. Most of the time, I don't realize that this is happening. My praying doesn't have any immediate effect. But then I have moments like last Friday.
As I was praying Morning Prayer, I was actually present and emotionally connected to what I was saying. When I read,
Deliver me, O Lord, from evildoers;
protect me from the violent,
Who devise evil in their hearts
and stir up strife all day long.
They have sharpened their tongues like serpent;
adder's poison is under their lips. Psalm 140:1-3
I was convicted of my own violence, the resentment that gives rise to speech that shames and belittles others. I was brought under judgment by Scripture in such a way as to become aware of the repentance and amendment of life that I need to undertake. And when I prayed the Collect for Mission: Lord, Jesus Christ, you stretched out your arms of love on the hard wood of the cross that everyone might come within the reach of your saving embrace - I KNEW that I, too, was held in that embrace. Tears of gratitude were shed.
Such moments of awareness and feeling are not why I pray. These come and go. God is there regardless. God is at work breaking me open and giving me a heart of flesh to replace my heart of stone, whether I realize it or not. The fruit of my praying will show up at other moments during the day, moments when I am able to offer compassionate presence with others in response to the compassionate Presence that is always and everywhere holding us in love.
That Presence is constant. It is my awareness and openness to God's presence that changes. So, I keep "showing up" for the Daily Office, whether I feel like it or not, trusting that the practice of "paying attention" to God will dispose me to receive the gift of God's presence. Sometimes, like last Friday morning, I'm actually open enough to receive it.