If you read my last post you read my review of The Prayer Book of the Early Christians and heard me describe my intent to use this as my personal prayer-book through Lent, particularly by praying th ‘Ritual Office.’ This is my positive practice of Lent. I have habits I am trying to shed as well, but this is so I can make more space for Christ to be formed in me as I look ahead to Easter. So I give you my plan on how to enact this practice in my life.
Praying the prayers
The first, and most obvious way to make use of your prayer-book is to pray the prayers; however this is an Orthodox prayerbook and my theology and practice is very Protestant. I appreciate the insights and wisdom of the Orthodox tradition and am going to incorporate some of it where I can, but I will be making adjustments. For example I am praying the offices of the day, but if and when they include prayers directed at Mary (more accurately, through Mary) I have left these off because I can’t with integrity pray along. Other times I simply adjust suggestions to fit better my life situation as a stay at home parent with three children. Part of this is a learning process, and I likely will make adjustments as we go along.
Setting the Scene
In trying to cultivate an everyday rhythm of prayer, having symbols and a physical space that calls you to prayer are helpful. McGuckin suggests lighting a candle as we pray. He writes:
When Christians pray from time immemorial they have lit candles. The Candle is a sign of the fire of the Holy Spirit. Their cheerful radiance (especially if at the time of prayer one dims the lights a little) becomes a little sacrament of the resurrection grace of Christ. The flame also serves to remind us of how pure and heartfelt our prayer is meant to be even if, at times, we are praying in a doldrum and may hardly feel any grace at all. The candle reminds us that Christ and his Holy Spirit pray in and through us, unfailingly. They see the heart’s intent and always draw close in time of prayer. Their prayer (in us, through us, over us) is never dim, always luminous. Each home can have a candle present, always ready at time of prayer. (McGukin, from introduction,x)
I have have found lighting candles for personal prayer time, both as an expression of Christ’s presence with us as we pray and as a personal statement of intent. When I have a candle lit as I come to pray, it reminds me where I am and what I am doing. This has been meaningful and a practical way of managing my Spiritual ADD.
Additionally, McGuckin commends the use of a ‘prayer kit.’ In the Orthodox tradition this includes a cross and an icon of Christ or the Virgin Mother with Christ. furthermore he commends dedicating a small corner of your house to say prayers (the beautiful corner). With three chaotic children I have not established such prayer space, but see the value in setting aside space to meet God. This is like a prayer closet and I am going to think of a creative way to establish this. My modified ‘prayer kit’ so far includes no icons, though I have several crosses. I also made a prayer stool to put me in the posture of prayer.
Establishing a Rhythm of Prayer
Having never prayed the hours, how does one pray the hours? My prayer-book gives me five times to pray. These are traditionally set times, as in Benedict’s rule; however as a non-monastic, I am willing to make adjustments to how this fits in my life. Here is my proposed schedule:
7am Morning Prayer (Matins)
10:30am The Office of the First Hour
1:30pm The Office of the Third Hour
8pm Evening prayer (Vespers)
11pm Night Compline
While this is my guideline, it is not written in stone. This morning I went to an Ash Wednesday service, so I prayed Matins earlier. Tonight I likely will also adjust the time for Vespers because I am out for the evening. When I am home, this schedule works well and enables me to attend to and work around the needs of my family, but I don’t follow the time’s legalistically. This is just a general rule. The point is to get myself into a rhythm of prayer, not to be slavish in my practice.
Praying with the Whole Body
As a good evangelical I sometimes forget I am a body and not just a soul. One of the beauties of this form of prayer is the attentiveness to embodying prayer in life. The Orthodox sign the cross, bow low while saying certain phrases. I think there is tremendous wisdom in paying attention to way our posture enables us to enter into prayer or where it doesn’t. So part of attending to the life of prayer for this season, I also want to attend to how to use my body in worship as I pray.
This is a window into my prayer practice over the next few weeks. What are you doing for Lent?