Starting my Ordination Training has once again made me examine my pattern of prayer. Over the years I have used lots of different patterns and sources in my attempt to take my focus off myself and onto God and others. I have had times when it has worked, when I have tapped into a rich seem of inspirational liturgy but such times have ebbed and flowed with an unhelpful inconsistency. This inconsistency has meant that the focusing and calming effect of prayer became vulnerable to be lost, drowned out or shut out by the distractions and pace of everyday life.
At the Sarum College’s Summer School it was noticeable how the framework of prayer on which each day was built gave a focus and protective sheen to the day. We embraced a structure of Morning, Midday and Evening Prayer, something often referred to as the Daily Office. Each session of prayer took precedence over anything else at that time of the day: so we prayed before we had breakfast and began lectures; we prayed after the morning’s activities ended and before lunch; and we sealed the day with prayer before we ate dinner and relaxed. Maybe prayer before a meal was out of a sense of humour, as much as thanking for the time past and the time to come, because the prayers were often said to an accompanying soundtrack of rumbling stomachs!
My pattern of prayer away from theological college has not normally been so regular. There have been times in my life when I have embraced a pattern and source of liturgically structured prayer, but it has often not been strong enough to withstand the demands of everyday life and its use withered. The consequence has been that at times I have often relied upon listening to a short piece of contemplative prayer on my commute into work or as I settled down to sleep after a busy day. Sadly even those briefest moments of focused prayers have sometimes been absent, their return would remind me just how bereft and detached from God I had felt without them.
The time and space given to prayer at college meant that although we did not end the day with a corporate session of Night Prayer (often also known as Compline or Examen) I still found that I was more focused and conscious of God’s presence throughout the day, from rising to going to bed. That we did not do them together was in itself not a bad thing, there is something particularly intimate about Night Prayer that benefits from being done alone and immediately before sleep.
I tried to continue using the Church of England’s pattern, structure and liturgy of Daily Prayer (Common Worship: Daily Prayer) after returning home from the Summer School, but it was a very different experience doing it alone. At college I had enjoyed its rhythm, length and phrasing; the schedule of the day also allowed time to give it its proper attention and time. There were no competing priorities or distractions, the liturgy, prayers and Bible readings were the undiluted focus – life outside of the theological college bubble is rarely like this.
At home, instead of dwelling on the words and letting them take me deeper into God’s presence, the looming demand of the school run and commute to work caused me to skim read the the liturgy. Whilst the length of Common Worship’s Daily Prayer was blessing at home there were more words than could be fitted into the time available, no matter how early I rose or how late I stayed up. And whilst saying the Daily Office with others at college was enriching, saying it on my own was dry and hard to absorb. The prayer became another task to do, not a focusing or structuring of the day around a relationship with God. Prayers were short, rushed and inwardly focused, driven by whatever was in my life at that moment.
When I finally admitted to myself that Common Worship: Daily Prayer was simply not going to work with my life away from college I knew I needed to find something that would. To continue with it with my work and family life as it currently is would be to repeat the past: my enthusiasm would weaken, the liturgy would be resented as a task rather than appreciated as a way into God’s presence, and my prayer would be ineffective.
I am also conscious, having started training for the ordained priesthood, that if I am going to be able to encourage those I serve to have a healthy prayer life I need to be able to practice now what I will be preaching later. I need to find patterns and sources of prayer that fit in with the busyness of my life now.
Reflecting on my patterns of prayer has led me to experiment with a deliberate trial of different prayer books, websites and mobile-Apps (computer programs in old-school language). By deliberately and systematically trying out various sources I hope that I will find one or a combination that will help sustain a healthy prayer life, one which will withstand the pressures of work, family and study.
Over the next few weeks I will be trialling different ‘Daily Offices’ which, to varying extents, have been gathering dust on my physical or virtual shelves:
- Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals book, website and app;
- The Northumbria Community’s Celtic Daily Prayer book, Daily Office website and Audio CD;
- The Jesuits in Britain’s Pray-as-you-go and 3 Minute Retreat;
- The Church of England’s Reflections for Daily Prayer and Time to Pray websites and mobile apps, simplified versions of their Daily Office (all available via websites, mobile apps and books.
I am deliberately using sources that I have used in the past, albeit inconsistently, because I know they have the real potential to become established and effective in my daily routine. That said I will be looking out for other sources that I might be able to take advantage of in the future (such as the Discovering Prayer website and the Scottish Episcopal Church). I will also be looking at how other I can make better use of technology to improve my prayer life, such as reminders, appointments and apps like PrayerMate that help prayer become more organised and focused (the JustPray website has links to a few of these apps).
My focus will be on finding sources that are distinctively different to, yet complimentary with, the Church of England’s full Daily Office. Variety is important: being too used to a single source of style can become stale, keeping prayer as an opportunity to tune into God rather than letting it become just another take to do. My hope is that I can not only find a pattern and style compatible with life as a parent, employee and student but also to find ones that will ensure my enthusiasm for prayer endures for the long-term.
I will be reporting back in a second post on my Experiment with Daily Prayer but am interested to hear how you keep your prayer life healthy and what you use. Please let me know by commenting below (and let me know if you do not want your comments published).