Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Daily Prayer: Cloister or Coffee Shop?

In “Frog Liturgy”—my previous blog—I noted two patterns that habituate seekers in prayer: (1) daily prayer (the communal “daily office”) and (2) weekly Lord’s Day liturgy gathered around water, word and meal. Here I will focus on daily prayer as a personal and communal discipline.

One of the primary dimensions of the liturgical renewal agenda of the last thirty years has been recovery of the “daily office”—the church praying at the cardinal points of the day: sunrise, zenith, sunset, and night. Roman Catholic, Anglican/Episcopal, Lutheran, Presbyterian, United Methodist, and perhaps other churches have official liturgical patterns and texts for prayer for these times of the day.

Having these services of prayer in our worship books and acquiring the regular use of them in patterning our daily prayer are two different things. The first is more or less accomplished, but the latter as a widespread practice is far from being widespread.

There is a plan
Robert Benson in a lecture on daily prayer playfully recalls his early years as a seeker when he heard the church insistently say, “Come to worship. Study the Bible. Pray daily.” He recalls that his church had a plan of practice for the first attending worship and studying the Bible, but for praying daily there was no plan. He recalls the church's presumption that he was supposed to know how to do it and to do it. He goes on to share his discovery that the historic church does have a plan; one that is largely unknown to ordinary Christians who know that they “should” pray daily—even want to pray daily—but don’t have a grace filled plan for how to do it. (By the way, Carolina Broadcasting & Publishing, Inc has a very useful resource featuring Benson introducing daily prayer and I commend it to churches and individuals who would like to take up this amphibious practice. Go to for details.)

Where do we pray--monastery or stairwell
If we are to be amphibious, inhabiting the present reality of daily life, and to simultaneously perceive and breathe in the realm of the Spirit, where do we pray? The question is both literal and metaphorical.

I learned Daily Prayer in the context of the monasteries that I regularly visited during my years of pastoral ministry. The faint smell of incense, the icons, the choir seating, the chanting of the Psalms, the periods of silence, and the sense of the holy and sacred were thick, sensuous, and delicious. Prayer in those cloistered settings was deeply formative and memorable. In days following my times at the monastery I continued to pray Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer with a sense that I was connected to the ongoing prayer of the church and specifically to those monastic communities. In fact, I still do. In pastoral life, I prayed daily prayer (inviting any and all in the congregation to join me--and some did!) in the church worship space. One man joined me daily for five years! In recent years as a worship specialist without local church assignment, I created an oratory in my home or found an acoustically rich stairwell or bathroom in my office building in which to sing the daily office. The monastic model nurtured and formed me in a life of marking the times of the day with the patterns of the daily office. In no way does what follows imply that monastic prayer is inadequate, misguided, or unnecessary.

It did, however, occur again to me yesterday as I prayed Morning Prayer at my table looking out the window at the ocean and neighborhood, that a vision of “secular” prayer might be more in order for non-cloistered seekers. Perhaps, I need an alternative vision and place for prayer that is equally formative, nurturing and delightful. My “oratory” downstairs in a corner of my office is fine and connects me to the monastic context, but sitting at the table upstairs opens me in ways that connect me to the workaday world and God's amazing creation.

Daily prayer in the postmodern context
In our postmodern context, delight, desire and sensuous connections are not to be shunned (as in earlier ascetic spiritualities), but to be embraced. Prayer in a garden, on a deck or lanai, in a bustling coffee shop, or in an office building window allowing a view of the city and its environs may be as connective as the prayer in the cloister is formative.

Thus positioned, praying the daily office allows for sensual connections and delights that evoke thanksgiving and sharpening of the vision of a world drawn up into the love and light of the Holy Trinity. It may provoke in us a deeper yearning for the reign of God in the midst of the endangered creation and the catastrophes of geopolitical conflict. In other words, the daily office context for non-monastic seekers is not the cloister or monastic house (focused on inner connections), but the worldly domain where outward connections are welcomed and delighted in or lamented. This is not to say that inner connections are not also made. In our postmodern context there is no hierarchy of inner and outer, spiritual and worldly, beatific and grisly.

The aim of all our prayer is recognition of God in all of God’s love and mystery. The result or fruit of the church’s prayer enacted in the ordo (pattern) of daily prayer is the divinization of self, community and cosmos. We consistently practice participation in the church’s prayer, whether solitary or gathered, so that our unique visions of God’s love and glory are connected in the concrete instances and realities of “our” experience of being person, society, and universe.

If the monastic or cloistered model fosters discontinuity for us, then the vision of where we are literally and metaphorically located needs to be reconstituted as “secular” prayer. The pattern (ordo) remains; the place and the sense are transformed.

One of the moments of grace and freedom for me several years ago was an article in Sacramental Life (published by the Order of Saint Luke), where Charles Hohenstein suggested that we may not be able to pray all of daily prayer liturgy (morning, noon, evening, night). Dealing realistically with our limitation, he suggested that we can pray parts of it that we have memorized to say or sing. I found it freeing to think that we can participate in the church’s prayer as we drive to work, or prepare the evening meal, or tumble tired into bed. While I usually pray all of Morning prayer, I pray parts of Evening Prayer as I walk the beach or noon prayer as we sit down to lunch.

Is this not a faithful way to hallow life and time and breathe the air of God’s coming reign? Might it be positively amphibious!

1 comment:

Melissa Tidwell said...

Hi Dan--
It's nice to have the chance to read some of your work again--always enjoy your perspective. Hainvg read your profile, which lists your age as 250, I want to know the secret of your longevity. If praying the hours does that for you, sign me up! Or is it dog years?

Best regards
Melissa Tidwell