Tuesday, April 01, 2008

The Daily Office

The Messenger
Grace Episcopal Church, Madison NJ
April 2008

The Daily Office

During my first semester at General Seminary my classmates and I were given the assignment of creating a “rule of life.” We were told to come up with a list of spiritual practices that we thought would serve us well during our three years of study and beyond in ordained ministry. To help us come up with our list and to reflect on the importance of spiritual practice we read a useful book called Practicing Our Faith, edited by Dorothy C. Bass. It includes essays on practices such as hospitality, healing, keeping Sabbath, discernment and forgiveness. To be honest, creating a rule of life seemed a little bit like making new years resolutions and sure enough most of my list quickly fell by the spiritual wayside as I tried to get through the day and get my papers written on time.

But one part of my rule of life grew in importance during seminary and has remained a key element of my spiritual life: the Daily Office (Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer). You may know that the Daily Office, found near the front of the Book of Common Prayer, has its roots in very early Christian practice and is the daily prayer that is intended to be prayed by the whole Church. In reality, of course, very few Episcopalians take advantage of this rich resource. At the seminary, however, the Daily Office is offered everyday and being both a morning person and a commuter student I thought that Morning Prayer would be an especially good fit and an appropriately “spiritual” way to start each day. Before seminary I had some familiarity with the Daily Office but I had only prayed it alone. While that’s fine and has its benefits, I have found that for me it is a deeper experience to pray in community.

So over the course of three years I sat in my spot in the seminary chapel and grew familiar with the various prayers and canticles, discovered the psalms and most importantly heard a good portion of the Bible read aloud. In the Daily Office the lectionary just plows through book after book of the Bible so we get to hear the familiar stories but also the more obscure, the legalistic, and the sometimes bizarre parts of Holy Scripture that we usually manage to avoid on Sundays. It was a great spiritual and educational experience.

In his book, Grace at this Time, author C.W. McPherson offers a helpful list of characteristics of the Daily Office. He notes that it is daily but it is also brief. It is stable (pretty much the same every day) but also flexible (all sorts of prayers, readings and music may be added). Finally, McPherson makes the important point that unlike our other church services, the Daily Office is non-hierarchical – anyone may serve as officiant.

In seminary when I imagined my first job I always expected that I would be in a little city church, probably working on my own. (So much for my abilities to predict the future!) I had resolved that wherever I ended up I would institute daily Morning Prayer – and if no one else showed up at least it would give me the structure to help me pray and, who knows, maybe others would be attracted to this simple and relatively brief service.

Well, you know how this story ends! Imagine my amazement when Lauren+ first told me that the Daily Office was offered here at Grace!

Just as in seminary, it has been a great gift to gather together on a daily basis and to say the familiar prayers and to be inspired, challenged and occasionally dumbfounded by Holy Scripture. It has also been moving to see the handful of parishioners who are so devoted to attending and sometimes officiating at the service. One of my worries as I prepared for ordination was if I would ever have a chance to just go to church. The Daily Office here at Grace has given me that chance just to sit and pray and not worry whether I’m forgetting to do something, or preaching too long, or chanting too poorly. The Daily Office offers a chance to sit (and stand and kneel) and pray.

I hope more of us will take advantage of this wonderful gift that we have been given. As with anything unfamiliar, the Daily Office might be a little intimidating or confusing at first. But the officiants usually announce page numbers and I know that the “regulars” are more than happy to help out newcomers. Come pray with us! Who knows, maybe the Daily Office will become part of your rule of life, too!