On praying the Little Hours: New Wine and 1 Thessalonians (5:17)

I met her at the New Wine Leaders’ Conference in Harrogate last year. We got on straight away, after she told me there was no doubting that the friend and colleague I was with was my son, “You have the same smile!” (sorry Dave, although technically possible, I suppose … ). We have kept in touch ever since although we were at different weeks of New Wine United in the summer and look like being so this year too.

We communicate about prayer (and books, sometimes, books on prayer). She has changed her routine to get up earlier and have time with the Lord in the early morning. It has taken about three months to change sleeping habits to feel really comfortable with this. But it still feels like something is missing she tells me. “I have a great prayer time in the morning, I listen, and sing along to worship songs, I pray in tongues I read my Bible on a Bible in a Year plan. But then when I get to work I am just as crotchety and irritable as ever.”

St Paul tells us to “pray constantly” (1 Thess. 5: 17), continually, without ceasing. Easier said than done.

There are three techniques that I think can really help this. I have written much about them here on this blog, I won’t put links here, you can search the blog below. Briefly on two of them:

Mindfulness: two elements turn mindfulness practice into prayer. One is recognising that the breath, our breathing is God’s Holy Breath, pneuma, breathing in us. The second is awareness of God’s presence when we achieve stillness, “Be still and know that I am God.” (Ps 46:10). Amazingly, it is possible to have this sense of the presence of God whatever you are doing and however busy you are.

Jesus Prayer: when this prayer becomes part of us, when it prays itself in us we can pray constantly, at all times. Again, it doesn’t matter how busy or preoccupied we are, if we allow it the prayer will rise.

It is however, another technique that the Tradition gives us that I want to draw attention to here. The practice of extending the Daily Office across the day by praying short little Offices or Hours, during the course of the day. Punctuating the day with prayer. I last wrote about this here (Little Hours a Gift for the Forgetful). Since I wrote that piece (in April last year) my own practice has moved on a little as has that of some of those I accompany. I have also been struck by how this tradition has emerged in two recently published books.

The historian Eamon Duffy has published a collection of essays Royal Books and Holy Bones – Essays in Medieval Christianity (Bloomsbury 2018) which includes an excellent essay on The Psalms and Lay Piety. Like all of Duffy’s writing it is accessible and readable.

There has been much research on the medieval Primers, collections of prayers for the laity. They are usually very liturgically based books and and always contain a good deal of psalmody. Often psalmody for use at the Little Hours – Terce, Sext and None – used to punctuate the day with prayer.

Despite churches of the Reformation removing Little Hours from their official liturgies, and the Roman Catholic Church only  mandating clergy to pray one Daytime Hour since the early seventies, there is a remarkable hunger for these Hours. They just won’t go away because they meet a need.

As an example the unofficial Lutheran Office Book, The Daily Prayer of the Church, edited by Pastor Philip Pfatteicher (Lutheran University Press, 2005) includes forms for Terce, Sext and None, as well as a single Daytime Hour. For each section of the daily Office lectionary of the BCP 1979 it includes a short extract which could be used as the reading at these little Hours to extend the prayer into the day, an ingenious idea. It is an excellent book containing a rich resource of hymnody for the Office from the Lutheran tradition.

The two recent books I recommend are:

The first is from The Episcopal Church in the United States but has been published in England with a preface by the former bishop of Oxford, John Pritchard. Daily Prayer for All Seasons – A contemporary Benedictine prayer companion (Canterbury Press, 2016). (DPFAS). Fr Christopher Woods reviewed this for the Church Times, here. Derek Olsen of St Bede’s Publications writes a somewhat harsh review here from a liturgical purists point of view. He is right on almost every substantive point but wrong about the helpfulness of the book.

DPFAS is not a liturgical book, it is a devotional prayer book which uses liturgical structures, seasonal, weekly and daily, to provide a framework for prayer. For each day eight sets of prayers are provided, one for each of the canonical Hours (Prime, Lauds, terce, Sext, None, Vespers, Compline, Vigils), each provided with a an overarching theme used in every season:

Prime – Praise

Lauds – Discernment

Terce – Wisdom

Sext – Perseverance and Renewal

None – Love

Vespers – Forgiveness

Compline – Trust

Vigils – Watch

A set of prayers is provided for each Season of the church’s year and two sets for Ordinary Time. The prayers are designed for private use at Prime and Vigils but corporate use at the other Hours. Here are two examples of provision, the first in Advent and the second in Eastertime. I think this would make an excellent resource for punctuating the day with prayer, for drawing from the liturgical tradition but doing so in a somewhat more devotional way. I have recommended it to several people and so far have had very positive feedback.

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The second recommendation is a book edited by Sister Stan, a Sister of Charity in Ireland who is something of a star. It is a beautifully crafted book, published by Columba Press. Awakening Inner Peace  provides a four week cycle of little offices for each of the eight canonical hours for every day. There is no seasonal material. The short but helpful introduction also provides suggestions for using particular hours at various points in life or in need. For each ‘Hour’ there is a verse or two of psalmody, a very short meditation in poetic form and a final verse of intention. The shortness of these Hours would provide a momentary pause in the working day or on retreat, the meditations are simple but profound. Here are two example pages.

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Even the traditional forms of the Little Hours take only a few minutes. These devotional forms even less. Breaking the day for these prayer pauses asserts the fact that there is something more significant than what we have to do, or the demands of the diary. It asserts our control over our diaries and over our busy-ness and the sovereignty of God in our lives. We cannot say “Jesus is Lord” and then ignore him from morning til evening.

Busyness is just a state of mind. It is about choices we make. We could all of us fill our days many times over. Praying the Hours can help us reduce stress and anxiety by reminding us of what is important and also by giving us an ‘Office’ that is completed at the end of the day. Many of us do jobs that are never really finished. Finishing, completing the Office can be immensely satisfying.

The Daily Office is often said to be about sanctifying time. The interesting thing for me in my present job is that it is also about sanctifying place. I have prayed the Little Hours in car parks, shopping centres, garden centres, empty offices in schools, town halls, the diocesan office, across the diocese of Liverpool and on trains and in my car.

If these books don’t appeal, and the structure of the traditional offices seems too much, just pray your way through Psalm 119 a section at a time. This is what Christians have done for much of Christian history.

My New Wine friend has only just begun this practice but already she has messaged me several times to say that her day feels so much better, so much more fully offered to the Lord.

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4 Comments

  1. “Despite churches of the Reformation removing Little Hours from their official liturgies”

    Yet Primers containing the Little Hours were issued with official sanction in the Church of England, e.g. in 1559.

    Like

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