On Praying Fixed Hour Prayers

I sit in the cool of the evening listening for the sound of silence. My two-and-a-half year old girl is putting me through the nightly routine of tucking her in, and tucking her in again. And Again (repeat ad naseum). I am tired and have yet to utter my prayers for Vespers and missed my ‘third hour prayer’ (which I pray just after lunch).

Followers of this blog know, I began Ash Wednesday to pray the hours using The Prayer Book of the Early Christians. This has been a fruitful practice, and for the first couple of weeks, I quickly fell into the routine, rising early, allowing an alarm to call me to prayer mid morning, after lunch, in the evening and just before bed.

The third week was more difficult. A couple of times I deviated from routine so that I could complete other necessary tasks, compensating with different prayer times, or forms of prayer. But week three was also when my willpower waned a bit. My alarm would sound and I lurched to prayer less eager than in early weeks. This was around the time I was writing about sloth and a rule of life, so I quickly dismissed my restlessness and went to prayer anyway. However this week my prayer times have been less than fixed. I make it to prayer everyday, and pray the prayers I have promised, but not all of them and not every office.

Praying fixed hour prayers is somewhat of a new experience for me, so I am both trying to extend myself grace for personal failures, and not let myself off too easily from my commitments. It is possible to rush through these prayers, but to do them properly takes time and attention, so it isn’t exactly an easy discipline.

Yet I know, that as I have been able to pray through these prayers, I’ve seen the fruit in my life. I’ve been more patient, more trusting, more discerning, more attentive to God through out my other routines and relationships. I have thought more about how to pray for the world, those in need. And when I have failed to ‘watch and pray’ this too has affected me.

And so despite failures, I keep praying through Lent knowing that these prayers are not merely dull routine but practices shaping me and drawing me further into the heart of God. So my big Lenten confession is this: despite my heroic efforts, I fail at my spiritual routines more than I keep to them, but I always try to fail forward into the kind of life God is calling.

In the time that it took me to write this post, I found my little girl out of her bed, again. She had fallen asleep on the stairs. I picked her up as she lay and carried her back to her bed and tucked her in under her covers. Sometimes when we fail to follow our routines, we find, like me with my little girl, God still gets us to the place we should be.

2 thoughts on “On Praying Fixed Hour Prayers

  1. My experience has been similar, but I’ve ditched the prayer book (although I adore the texts) and just pray where ever I am, whatever I’m doing. I was somewhat arbitrary picking my times, initially, and I’m often in the middle of something. But it felt like cheating to schedule praying around my day, rather than stopping my day, however briefly to call upon God. So, while it would be much easier to pray the hours in a abbey setting where “everyone” is on the same praying schedule (imagine!) , I’m humbled in my struggle, but also blessed in the regular remembrance (in the Hebrew sense) of Him.

    • Well I don’t know if its cheating or not, I certainly worked out a schedule for my day. My prayer book allows for it, and since I do the Morning prayers a couple of hours later than my monastic brothers and sisters, I made adjustments to the other times as well.

      For me the challenge is sticking to a set schedule, because as much as my schedule accommodates my schedule, it doesn’t change and so I still have to discipline myself around the prayer times.

      I think you are absolutely right that the rhythm of prayer is more important than the prayer book and occasionally I have bowed my head without it and took time to offer up prayers. But for me, the prayer book has been an important part of the exercise of praying with the church. I honestly don’t think I could sustain the practice past Easter, though my wife prays morning and evening prayers with “Common Prayer” and has been trying to get me to join her. Perhaps I will.

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