METANOIA - A Soul Tending Resource for Character Formation
Lent of 2011, I began to experience a strong desire to return to God during my work day. Although a morning devotional and an evening Examen time was in place, my dry soul needed refreshment in the midst of my ordinary life. I had heard of the practice of praying the hours, but it was Frank Laubach’s book Letters of a Modern Mystic that inspired me to intentionally experiment with some semblance of this practice in my life.
It was rough going in the beginning because I was lousy at remembering to do it. I’m not speaking of anything formal. I’m speaking of simply remembering to “stop and turn,” even brie?y. I would set my intention in the morning to stop my work and turn in worship for ?ve minutes midmorning (Terce) and for ?ve minutes mid- afternoon (Sext). But most days I did not give it a second thought until the end of the day or the next morning as I was setting my intention for the day. Highly frustrated with myself, over time I did wise up. Just as the early Christians depended on the bells to transition from work to worship, I began using a timing chime to alert myself to stop and turn.
Another help came when our good and beautiful God encouraged me when reading Amos 4:6-11 from the lectionary. These words of correction were offered to Israel (and ME) “. . . yet, you did not return to me” - ?ve times the correction came; ?ve times in those six verses. A power-?lled message to return often to the holy One. Do I remember? No, not always. But I do remember more often that I have forgotten. When I do remember, I begin again with the thirst of a satis?ed soul.
IT IS GOOD TO THIRST How do you thirst? We all thirst, but we do not thirst alike. An empty-soul thirst has no idea for what it thirsts. A dry-soul thirst is in need of spiritual refreshment, as a deer pants for ?owing streams (Psalm 42:1). A satis?ed -soul thirst desires God precisely because he or she has experienced the quenching of thirst and thirsts for more. It is good to thirst.
Lauralee Fareer is a woman with a thirsty soul. She is an award-winning ?lmmaker and president of Burning Heart Productions. In her book, Praying the Hours in Ordinary Life, she writes about a time when on the surface her life looked like everything was coming up roses, but in reality, Lauralee was ?lled with grief and longed for “the solace of a landscape to match her sorrow.” Leaving her work behind, she headed for the desert of New Mexico in hopes of quenching the thirst of her empty soul.
During the 50 days she meandered in the desert, she did the only thing that made sense to her. “I prayed,” she said, “when the sun set and again before bed. I prayed in the wakeful, un-tranquil night and later when the dawn came. I prayed when I found the courage to rise from sleep, when the day began to disintegrate, when the sun burned overhead and in the lonely afternoons. My prayers at each of those different hours naturally matched the moods and emotions of them.”
My mind’s eye can see her daily, beginning the rhythm again; seeking nourishment for her empty soul. She did not pray by the movement of the clock but by the rhythm of the sun: from dusk to dark to dawn to day and on again. She prayed as a way of creating a rhythm for her disoriented days and a balance for her wobbly life. Little did she know at the time that she was praying the Benedictine tradition known as Fixed-Hour Prayers or the Divine Of?ce.
WHAT ARE FIXED-HOUR PRAYERS? As the name implies, ?xed-hour prayers are prayed at ?xed times. It is one way to return to God with intentionality and consistency. Phyllis Tickle, an authority on praying the hours, tells us that ?xed-hour prayer is the oldest form of Christian spiritual discipline; it was practiced by the early church and has its roots in Judaism, out of which Christianity grew. Fixed-hour prayers is one of the few things (along with the Lord’s Table and baptism) that truly link the contemporary church with its deepest roots. If so, how did ?xed-hour prayers come to be and why is there a resurgence in today’s contemporary times?
HOW DID THEY COME TO BE? At the turn of the era, the devout punctuated their workday with a regimen of prayer that followed the ?ow of Roman commercial life. There were no clocks.Bells began the workday at 6:00 a.m. wheprimn e, or ?rst hour, was prayed. Bells rang again for midmorning break at 9:00 a.m., whteernce or third hour was prayed. Bells rang for the noon meal or siesta at 12:00 p.m., whseexnt or sixth hour was prayed. Bells rang for the recommencing of trade at 3:00 p.m., whnoenne , or ninth hour was prayed. Bells rang at the close of business at 6:00 p.m., known as vespers, and they prayed.
St. Benedict urged stopping our work and returning to God precisely to say:
“This work is not my purpose. My purpose is to praise God.”
With Benedictine’s addition of evening prayers and early morning prayers upon rising, the structure of ?xed-hour prayers was established in a form that is very close to what Christians still use today. It is a disciplined attempt to honor the sacredness of time as we seek to build our day on prayer – growing in our capacity to pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:16).
ENTERING IS KEY Praying the hours is a spiritual practice of returning to the Source, a gentle practice that will take time, not force. It’s not something you “get.” It’s something you enter into and it gets you. We practice not for perfection but as a way of placing ourselves before God to do in us only the work He can do –– transform our character into Christlikeness. You won’t notice anything happening until you’ve already begun to change. Others often notice the change in you ?rst.
Even using structured liturgies, ?xed-hour prayer times are short, as little as 5 minutes or up to 30 minutes. However, rather than stopping and turning at set times, I often begin a work project offering myself and my work to God as a living sacri?ce. I pray something like, “Dear Lord, I give you my mind, I give you my heart, I give you my hands, I give you my whole being. Direct the work of my hands (Psalm 90:17). Melt me, shape me, fall afresh on me and this work you have so generously prepared and entrusted to my care for the sake of your people.” I then set my timing chime for a designated time and begin my work. When the chime rings, I simply stop and turn in prayer. “Thank you, God, for the gift of this past time. I release this work into your hands. Perfect what concerns you.” I sit in silence for one to ?ve minutes, beginning the rhythm again.
If this practice is something you’re drawn to, I encourage you to simply enter with the idea of experimenting with various ways to discover your way.
ONE LAST THING Though I am not called to monastic life, I have found it helpful to enter into and explore ?xed-hour prayer at a monastery in order to experience the rhythm and understand the concept. If that is not possible for you, I would encourage you to ?nd at least one other person who has practical knowledge with praying the hours so that you may experience it with them and learn how you can experiment with it in your setting.A PAUSE FOR ILLUMINATION
There in the white space you will ?nd your soul waiting for you. Allow the anointing rhythm of the hours to touch and teach you. If you want to be attentive to your soul, you simply must ?nd ways to honor your need to acquire a sense of rhythm in your life––some kind of balance in your work, leisure, and prayer.
–– Macrina Wiederkehr, Seven Sacred Pauses
Ready Set apart some time to be alone with God. Ready yourself and your space. You may want to secure a journal and writing instrument to capture your inspirations. Through prayer, intentionally invite God’s spirit to help you become more open, receptive and responsive to how the holy One would have you receive and respond to experimenting with the concept of praying the hours.
Read the “In Brief - The Benedictine Hours” (which follows). As you read, notice what word, phrase, or thought line seems meant for you.
Re?ect on the word or phrase. How does it touch your life today? What is God inviting you to do differently as a result of your meditation? How is God inviting you to pray, to grow, to change, to respond?
Resolve & Respond As you approach the end of this time, conclude with resolutions or commitments of things you will attempt to do differently as a result of this time. End with prayers of thanksgiving and gratitude for what God has given, is doing, and will do in your life as you respond in obedience.
In Brief ~ THE BENEDICTINE HOURS
VESPERS ~ Sundown. We gather together. Monastic communities typically follow the Jewish custom of welcoming a new day at sundown - kindling a light to mark a new day in Christ - putting the day to rest and hoping for another. We lay aside petty grievances and forgive. In her book Seven Sacred Pauses Macrina Wiederkehr explains, “It is time to put most of our work tools away and turn our thoughts to making peace with the day and with one another. At the close of the workday, a gentle assessment can draw us deeper into gratitude. Here are a few questions.
- What has been the greatest blessing of this day?
- What one accomplishment can I smile over?
- Am I able to look with compassion on the faces of those who have been part of my workday?”
“However,” she concludes, “the questions that come from your own heart are the essential ones.”
COMPLINE ~ The moon has risen. We enter the night rest. Night Prayers (last hour of the day) is a time to review your day by means of a gentle evaluation. Again, Wiederkehr guides us, “It is love rather than guilt that ought to enrobe us as we enter ‘The Great Silence’ of night. It is helpful to pray the Evening Examen as a careful re?ection of your day. This short prayer exercise is to help increase your sensitivity to the Spirit working in your life and to provide the enlightenment needed to co-operate and respond to this presence. Use the following questions or create your own.
- Have I been a good memory in anyone’s life today?
- Is there anyone, including myself, whom I need to forgive?
- What do I know, but live as though I do not know?
- What is the one thing in my life that is standing on tiptoe crying, ‘May I have your attention please?’ What needs my attention?”
In many monasteries it is the custom to begin the “Great Silence” after Compline in which the whole community, including guests, observe silence throughout the night until the next day’s morning service. “Be vigilant!” Farrer reminds those entering this great silence, “You are entering the night rest. Yes, be vigilant and keep silence, but do so in order to listen . . . to learn . . . to anticipate . . . to journey toward morning.”
VIGILS ~ The moon is overhead. The watchman waits. The Latin root of the word vigil means “wakefulness.” The Vigil hours bridge the gap between sleep and sunrise – a time when most anyone would surely rather sleep! The purpose of this time is to learn to trust God in the darkness . . . “my soul waits for the Lord more than those who watch for the morning, more than those who watch for the morning” (Psalm 130:6). When I cannot sleep at night, I pray for people, or pray my Breath Prayer, or just pray Jesus, Jesus, Jesus.
LAUDS ~ The sun returns. The sleeper awakes. This ?rst prayer of the day is ideally prayed at sunrise. Themes for this hour are praise, resurrection, joy, and delight. Most often I pray a simple prayer of praise before rising - thanking God for a good night’s sleep ‘cause sleep really is a beautiful thing - or thanking God it is morning, ?nally.
PRIME ~ The day is lit. Choose your course. Prime is the ?rst hour of the workday between Lauds and the midmorning hour of Terce. This is my favorite; a time I come before God with a listening heart, ready to set my course for the day, praying for direction. It’s the time for presenting myself/my work to God asking that the love, light and Spirit manifest itself in the motives and desires of my heart; that I would have singleness of eye and purity of purpose; that I might discern and do the will of God (Romans 12:1-2) so that I might participate in the co-creation of the abundant life only God can imagine for me and those I serve.
TERCE ~ The light climbs. The worker pauses. Once I get going, once my pace is in place, the last thing I want to do midmorning is pause! Yet, when I do, even for a minute, it makes all the difference. The work does not change but I change when I pause to give thanks for what has been, rededicate myself to what is, and say yes to what is to come.
SEXT ~ The sun is overhead. The traveler reaches a crossroad. This “sixth hour,” noon, is the hour of light. Oftenknown as the Midday Prayer. Farrer speaks to my heart when she writes, “Who can bear to look at the sun directly? Who can look directly at this Hour? What do you do with a day––a life––that feels as though it has not even started until noon? All the morning hours of light and encouragement are gone, perhaps wasted, and remaining are the afternoon hours of paradox and challenge. Half of life is spent, and night is coming.” Tell me, does she speak to you, too?
NONE ~ Daylight wanes. Shadows lengthen. This is the “ninth hour” - the midafternoon that often tests our determination. The hour Jesus said, “It is ?nished.” At this hour we are encouraged to shift our thinking from what is undone, unachieved, unresolved, and focus our energies toward forgiveness, generosity and grace - to turn our mind toward, as Farrer says it, “legacies with eternal value.”