On praying the hours: Thoughts on my first week of fixed hour prayer

So Having prayed the hours (using the Prayer Book of the Early Christians) for a week, I thought it would be fun to examine some of the things I am learning and experiencing. It took several days for me to see fruit of this discipline and I have several weeks to go. Here is what my experience has looked like so far:

Praying in Time & Space

One of the joys and struggle of this sort of prayer is getting into the rhythm of it. I have more or less stuck with my original plan (7am, 10:30, 1:30, 8pm, 11pm). The morning daytime prayers have been easier for me to do at my scheduled intervals than my evening prayers. My ‘vespers’ prayer I have scheduled for 8pm because that is around the time that the kids are already in bed and I can do it without leaving my wife to handle everybody. However, as any parent probably knows kids do not always go to bed in a timely fashion so there is fluidity with when it happens. My 11pm Compline gets pushed around if I’m watching a movie or doing something with Sarah. It happens sometime before bed.

Each of these prayer times is relatively brief. Matins and Compline are the prayer times which are slightly meatier. The others take about 10-15 minutes each. Vespers is starting to take me slightly longer because I have integrated some of my intercessory prayer lists into saying the litany.

When I have been at home, I have prayed in the corner of the guest room in our house. This is relatively private (kids are kept out) and quiet and out-of-the-way. Although this room is located directly over our bedroom and the first time I said Compline there I woke my wife up who was wondering what I was doing. When I have been away from home all my prayers have happened inside my car in a parking lot.

Praying in Community

One of the things that I’ve learned from this experience is that prayer, even personal prayer, is always communal prayer. I struggled for several days wanting to pray I, me, my, instead of the prayer-book’s we, us, our. The prayer I am most used to is more intimate and personal than this sort of praying but also can be highly individualistic. It’s been good discipline for me to say ‘we’ and pray with the whole Church.

But another way that I have learned that prayer is communal is by seeing how my personal Lent discipline impinges on my family. Despite my efforts to set the times for prayer around my other responsibilities invariably my ‘discipline’ has been an inconvenience on those around me. On the third day of praying, when my wife was doing something and asking me to watch the kids, I told her my plans and when I was to do my prayer time. She dutifully completed her task and said to me, “Is it bad that I find your Lent practice annoying.” Needless to say, that wasn’t my best prayer-time but we talked about it (argued) and I realized that even my own private prayer practice was enabled and supported by my family, even if they weren’t participating with me. We’ve worked this out, and I have tried to be more thoughtful (and proactive) in seeing that my personal practice is not burdensome.

Praying with the Body

As part of this practice, I have tried to pay attention to posture and what I do with my body. I have used a kneeling stool I built and dutifully following instructions to ‘cross myself’ in prayer and bow to the ground after certain phrases. The first couple of days my legs fell asleep during Matins and I could barely walk. It also took several days before the bowing and crossing didn’t feel awkward.

Part of embodying prayer is vocalizing them. I’m still trying to train myself to say the whole pray out loud. This is easier in the day when I am fully awake. I find my Matins prayers drifts towards mental prayer and I begin to read silently, and therefore quicker. Certainly posture, bowing, speaking prayers and crossing myself have helped focus my prayer and keep me on task. Certainly there is symbolic significance to each of these acts, but I find them most helpful in keeping my attention.

Allowing the Psalms to shape my prayers

This has been one of the joys of using a prayer-book. Each day I read a significant chunk of the Psalms. In my prayer book these are not arranged liturgically, nor do they rotate. I pray the same psalms everyday. But it is a good selection and repetition over several days has helped me enter into certain psalms in a new way. Here are the psalms from the various offices (I switched the psalm numbers from the Septuagint numbers to the more familiar numbers from the Masoretic text):

    Matins: Psalm, 20, 21, 3, 38, 63, 88, 103, 143, 11
    First Hour Prayers: 5, 90, 101
    Third Hour Prayers: 17, 25, 51
    Vespers: 104, 141
    Compline 51, 70, 143, 91

Only Psalm 51 is repeated in this list. The total number of psalms recited as part of my daily prayers is twenty. They represent various genres: personal and communal laments, praise, invocation, royal psalms, etc. I have appreciated the richness this has brought to this practice.

There is more about fixed-hour prayer for me to entangle. I love the depth of theological reflection in many of the prayers but some of them do not sit as well for various reasons. I may blog about this later but thus far its been a good experience.

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5 thoughts on “On praying the hours: Thoughts on my first week of fixed hour prayer”

  1. Thanks for this James. I didn’t get my act together this Lent, but it’s helpful to read about your experience while I plan to put my own into action. Especially appreciate your willingness to share your struggles with timing/family life etc.

    1. I had a couple of friends complain about the white text on black being difficult to read so I changed themes. I like the simple look of this one but not sure how I feel about all my links and site navigation thrown on the bottom of the page.

      Noon and three are hard times. I think us non monastics praying these sorts of prayers need to adjust the times to fit our life. Would other times work better?

      1. I think I may just need to plan better. I started putting the daytime liturgy in a book that I keep in my purse, but didn’t finish, so I’m working on that today. I also found out (duh!) that I can get the text through the NorthumbriaCommunity website. But worse, the alarm will go off, and I’ll turn it off, and keep doing what I’m doing. That’s just me, being me – no discipline. (working on it!)

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