A few years ago I turned to the Daily Office as a way to begin each day. This ancient practice of prayer has origins in pre-Christian Judaism. Some monastic communities developed their own form of the Daily Office, or Liturgy of the Hours, praying together up to six times a day. Today, many Roman Catholics, Episcopalians and Anglicans recite the Daily Office, usually twice or three times a day.
Christians in the Protestant tradition have also found meaning in these ancient traditions. In my case, this Baptist, currently serving in a Methodist church, prays the “morning office.”
As many theologians suggest, prayer is first-order theology. How we pray, and when we pray, tells us what we believe about God and what we believe about each other – perhaps even more than what we say. So, as Christians, if we do not pray, what does this say about who we believe God to be? And does God matter to our world?
Sometimes it can feel overwhelming to pray. Where do we start? What do we include? How should we pray?
“As many theologians suggest, prayer is first-order theology.”
Even the “professional” Christians can have a difficult time praying. I have been in a classroom of ministry students or a meeting with clergypersons where the question “does anyone want to pray?” is met with sideways glances and downward stares. In private, I have sat staring at my Bible and my notebook, waiting for inspiration.
For me, the Daily Office takes out that deciding factor of what to pray, how to pray, when to pray and allows me to go through the entirety of scripture, even the parts I’d rather forget were there. Each day I offer praise and ask God to help me. Each day, I listen to a Psalm, a passage from the Old Testament and a passage from the New Testament. I recite the Nicene Creed and pray the Lord’s Prayer.
I pray for “the leaders of our nation, that they may act according to Your will.” Sometimes I pray that wincing, because so many of our nation’s leaders have failed to do just that. It can feel more like the challenge of praying for my enemies.
I pray “for those in sickness, grief, persecution, bondage, fear, or loneliness.” These broad-ranging categories remind me to pray for those suffering as a result of limited access to health care or an inhumane immigration policy and the pain of loved ones lost. It causes me to consider: How many times have I prayed for the lonely? Who are the lonely today, and why are they lonely? If I have time, I practice silence to think of those persons specifically for whom I want to pray.
The prayers remind me of the grace “that precedes and follows” me, without any initiation on my part. Nothing is outside the love of God.
Sometimes I listen to the Daily Office in a podcast form. I may drive, cook breakfast or sip coffee as I listen to or recite the prayers. I realize this could be “cheating,” but if the Holy Spirit is everywhere, perhaps praying during the mundane reminds us that God is there, even when we wash dishes or commute to work.
“The prayers remind me of the grace ‘that precedes and follows’ me, without any initiation on my part.”
The 20th-century agnostic philosopher Jacques Derrida said, “If I pray, when I pray, I pray all the time.” While Derrida was uncertain about God’s existence, I do like his idea of prayer. This understanding reminds us that prayer can be as simple as a breath of gratitude or an awareness of the Holy Spirit who surrounds us.
For me, it is hard to set aside time each day as dedicated to God. But developing the ritual of praying the Daily Office allows me to pray even when I can only mouth the words while my heart doubts. It enables me to pray when I am tired and weary. And it starts me off in acknowledgement that God is present and active, though I may feel otherwise.
When I pray the Daily Office I am reminded of the great cloud of witnesses, who have practiced this ritualized prayer for millennia, and who are praying now. In this I find comfort; in this I find hope.