In my previous post I wrote about my determination to find a pattern of daily prayer that suited being a working parent. The combination of the school run, a days work, family life and church had made if difficult to find enough space and time to connect with God through dwelling on liturgy and scripture.
I decided to take 3 different sources of the Daily Office available in multiple formats and focus on each for a week: Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals, the Northumbria Community’s Daily Office and the Church of England’s Time to Pray. which together combine a mixture of books, the internet, smart-phones and music.
This post is part reflection and part review of these and the impact focusing on applying them to an inconsistent and complicated schedule had on me. As I found out when trying to do Morning, Midday and Night Prayer, not each format is necessarily suited to each part of the day.
Praying Through the Day
Sitting at my desk in the quiet of the early morning, before my children awoke and the day began in earnest, the tactile process of opening a book and turning the pages drew me deeper into God’s presence than the tapping and swiping of pixels on a screen. The books engaged more senses than my sight: the texture and smell of the covers and the pages within; my fingers slowly but deliberately finding the pages to read; and the light that fell upon the words before me. The softness of a book and the light in which it is read is inviting, the harshness of the light from computer screen is not. And though I found Time to Pray helpful in various ways not having it in book form meant that I found it more attractive later in the day than in the morning (it is available in book form so in time I may find myself buying a copy to use).
With time limited (and my inability to get up early enough) the reduced length of the Morning Prayer in all 3 sources was helpful. With the reminders of historic moments and calls to action within Common Prayer I found my prayers being more purposeful and less tokenistic than before. With the Northumbria Community’s Daily Celtic Prayer I found my prayers more emotionally driven and intimate, perhaps driven by the more poetic language. The repeated refrains scattered throughout Time to Pray helped them to cut through my tired state and bed in, but the lack of a ‘thought for the day’ meant that the effectiveness of the session depended on my reaction to the Bible readings. All were short enough not to be rushed, enabling a decent amount of time to contemplate the liturgy and readings.
Maybe I am alone in this but I often find the Psalms dry and challenging to engage with, especially when presented with a large number of verses. Although Time to Pray is a shortened version of Common Worship: Daily Prayer there is still a fair bit from the Psalms which, along with the other Bible readings, are drawn from the Church’s lectionary. My understanding with and use of the lectionary is such that I have yet to fathom or discern any order or continuing theme. Common Prayer is quite the opposite, the Bible readings follow on from the day before. By gradually expanding a reading over several days the overall story and message was consolidated and embedded much better than having unrelated scripture each day. The Northumbria Community’s’s Bible readings are often single verses which penetrate deeper into my soul and provide more to contemplate than a long reading.
Whatever peace the prayer provided I found that the stress of the school run could easily replace it. Even if the peace remained I found myself drawn to and appreciative of the Jesuits’ Pray-as-you-go to listen to as I continued into work. Having engaged in prayer with my hands and eyes before breakfast, engaging in my prayers with my ears as I prepared for the rest of the day was a moment to savour and one which brought the peace back. Knowing that I would be using Pray-as-you-go meant that on occasions I used it as my sole source of Morning Prayer, choosing to use the single session of set prayer from my digital copy of Time to Pray at lunchtime.
Whatever the source, Midday Prayer was always a varied affair. The environment in which we pray can have a big impact on the prayers and there are few places in my office in which I can comfortably remove myself. A good set of headphones and some gentle instrumental music were essential if I was to have any hope of finding some distance from the distractions. Both Common Prayer’s and the Northumbria Community’s were short enough to be used well within a short lunch break whilst still leaving enough time to eat.
The timing of Evening Prayer was a challenge. Like many parents the time after work was concerned with collecting and feeding my children before the all-important bedtime routines began. By the time quietness had descended upon my house, and the essential chores had been done, the onset of tiredness did not particularly make reading liturgy an enticing prospect. At times like these, just as when driving, having audio sources of prayer was invaluable.
Throughout the 3 weeks I drew upon not only the audio of Pray-as-you-go but an audio version of Northumbria Community’s Celtic Daily Prayer which is both sung and spoken. Although different both the sung and spoken liturgy were particularly helpful but they did have challenging side-effects: the lack of feeling that often comes when words are spoken in unison can be off-putting; and when reading the liturgy I would hear the tune in my head, a distraction that could turn the contemplative prayer and worship into a nice sing-along session. Common Prayer includes songs within its sessions but only the App includes audio-tracks of the suggested songs, both the book and website include sheet music that resolutely remained either silent or out of tune in my head.
Just as a contemplative audio provided a good start to my working day, praying along with the voices of others or listening to an audio Compline or Examine ended the day well, particularly when heard immediately before sleep (the Jesuits’ Pray-as-you-go app and website has audio versions of Examen Prayer and the Northumbria Community’s Daily prayer album has a Compline for each day of the week).
As I experimented with different patterns and sources of daily prayer I quickly realised, somewhat unsurprisingly, that spending a week at a time with a sources wasn’t going to be long enough to perfect my practice. The variations in life that make one day easy and another hard mean that there will never a single solution that will endure, instead whatever we do needs to adapt to an ever changing environment.
Focusing on spending time in prayer and anchoring my day in God’s presence did have benefits beyond finding liturgy and readings that inspired me. It brought a sense of God’s presence throughout the day: when stressful situations occurred it did not take much to return to a peaceful perspective. The gap between my conscious and subconscious awareness of God’s presence narrowed. Before I began my experiment God could be hidden under layer upon layer of thoughts and tasks. Praying more regularly found space for God alongside them.
With our busy lives it is a challenge to make time to simply be with God and it is all too easy for the world to drown out His voice. This experiment has shown me that having a variety of formats and sources of a Daily Office is essential if the inspiration is to remain fresh and flexible enough to fight through the ‘things-that-must-be-done’. It has reminded me that more important than a Daily Office is the desire to pray and spend time with God. The practice of regularly dwelling on liturgy and scripture provided a foundation for the moments when they were unreachable: on the days when a session of set prayer was not possible my mind turned to God more quickly than before.
So although I set out looking for a single source of guidance to aid my prayers during each day I found I used several. I found a relaxation with prayer and a realisation that the motivation to pray and connect with God is the most important factor. That motivation can become the prayer because, as I found when I read or spoke no words, our souls don’t always need words to communicate with God.