The Unintended Consequences of Praying the Daily Office

My previous experience of daily worship was once daily (a few times a week) when in university. Before coming to Liverpool I had some expectations based on previous worship experiences, I’ve not attended services “as regularly” as I have in Liverpool these past six months (and don’t get me started on how quickly this first half of the year has flown by!). 

I should mention my time at Holy Cross Monastery for Discernment and Orientation for participating in YASC. The Brothers offer five services a day, which I soaked up eagerly. Suffice to say, I was expecting and anticipating regular attendance at corporate worship throughout the week while a residential member of the Tsedaqah House. 

As much as I love it, worship and prayer are not activities confined to corporate liturgy in the Cathedral. The idea of all of life being prayer and an opportunity for communion with the Divine are among the ideals of the monastic life. We can (and should when safe to do so, which isn’t the case at the moment sadly) enrich the everyday life of prayer with dedicated periods of getting together (i.e., the Daily Offices and the Holy Eucharist). But if the only time we as Christians feel connected to Christ is in a church building, then we’re missing an opportunity for the full experience of a Christ-centered life. A “day job” looks different for each of us, but it can be part of our mission as Christians to search out and intentionally appreciate the presence of God on the bus, in the office, or in the living room (or the parlour if I’m feeling particularly posh). 

Worship is an offering to God first and foremost of our time, presence, and prayer, and we do it corporately as an indication of the communal nature of the Call of Christ. But what has become apparent to me over the course of these last six months is that corporate worship gives back as much as it takes. Having a separate, dedicated space for reflection and meditation does wonders for spiritual, mental, even physical health. I love the ability sometimes in Evensong to stop the turning wheels of my brain and to sit in silence before God. Placing ourselves before God is indeed a part of our worship of Him. 

It may sound obvious, but worship also helps grow and deepen the faith we’ve claimed. One of the specific ways in which that happens is the use of the Daily Office Lectionary. Passages of Scripture have been selected and laid out for reading on the different services of the different days of the year, and all are conveniently at your fingertips in various apps according to the various lectionaries around the communion. Indeed, at Morning Prayer in the Cathedral, many Canons are to be found using their phone apps to follow along with the liturgy! 

One moment I’ll never forget was the time I was reading (as us Tsedaqites are asked to that every now and again) from Paul and the lesson is going on and then all of a sudden he breaks into his classic “A woman shall learn in submission…and keep her head covered…a woman shall not speak in church” schtick and it falls to me to read all this without rolling my eyes. Ironic that Canon Ellen was leading the Office that morning and sat there in her cassock having spoken the words of the office as prescribed in the Common Worship Books. 

After Morning Prayer, we move out of the Chapter House (which is essentially an octagonal chapel with an altar) and usually have a good chat or two, and a frequent topic of conversation is often “Well, Paul certainly was having a bad day that day” or “Joseph was sure sneaky by deceiving his brothers like that” or whatever the bizarre bit of the readings turned out to be that day. And honestly, reading the Bible in this way (liturgically and methodically) is the best thing for us. There are bits of the Bible I’d rather not talk about as much as others, but the Lectionary keeps me honest, and forces me to confront, acknowledge, and hopefully embrace what God has revealed beneath and behind the words of Scripture, especially those bits I’d rather not talk about. And it’s absolutely vital that this digging into Scripture is a communal activity. No one of us will ever know the unknowable mystery that is the God we worship, and Jesus’ Call to Discipleship wasn’t individual, it was a communal call. God incarnates wherever two or three are gathered together in His Name and consider the salvific narrative of Scripture that will lead us into eternal life. 

Dean Sue has started a new custom for us in Lent—in place of the new Testament Reading, we’ve been reading a portion of the Rule of St. Benedict at Morning Prayer. I’ve encountered his Rule before, but not in the depth that regular readings like this provide. Early on, I was struck at how utilitarian his Rule is, how “followable” it is designed to be. He exhorts his listeners to prepare themselves for the discipline of living in community, which has continued to puzzle me. We do need to prepare ourselves for the discipline of living a Christian Life, because it takes work. It takes work to get up and pray together each day and it takes work to meditate on God’s Word. But we get as much as we give: “For those … who lose their life for my sake will find it.”

What we find in Jesus is who we truly are. 

We find ourselves. 

Thanks for reading this update on my missionary blog! I’m a missionary of The Episcopal Church, serving in Liverpool, UK. Make sure to subscribe at the bottom of the home page to get an email when I next post an update. God bless, and thank you!

Eager to read more? Check out the “Meet the YASCers” page of the website of the Young Adult Service Corps (YASC) of the Episcopal Church to find the blogs of my missionary colleagues: https://www.episcopalchurch.org/YASC/meet-yascers.

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3 Comments

  1. Hi Nelson, I really enjoyed reading this post. I kept thinking of you and your experience, marveling at your spiritual maturity (not just because of your age) and resonating with your commentary on reading the Lectionary. I have been doing that as a Lenten discipline and, wow, I am hungrily being fed by the scripture, discovering and revisiting old favorites. I laughed at your references to Paul and Joseph. As you know, today (now yesterday) Joseph died and we finished the book of Genesis. How’s that for a quick summary? (Last week my husband Bruce told me he read ahead, up to the point where Joseph died. “He dies?” I moaned. “Don’t tell me that!” Spoiler alert.)

    My heart is filled with joy at your experiences and reading your very well written account of your activities and insights. Today’s blog should find a venue to be read more widely. People need those words.

    Blessings from Beverly, the one on the other side of the pond. Deborah

    Like

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