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Praying the Hours

Praying the Hours

While I have made significant progress in my ‘taking the habit’ journey, today I want to share some revelation I’ve had regarding another part of my calling.

Taking the discipline of the Hours, (also known as the Daily Office), was part of my monastic journey I tried to jump into right away.  Early research informed me that praying the hours was taking time apart, up to 7 or 8 times a day, to focus on God in the midst of our work.  That number was set by St Benedict in his Rule, but there are other valid ways to go about it.

In the Old Testament, the morning and evening sacrifices are required.  In the story of Daniel, we learn of his custom to pray three times a day.  In Psalms, “Seven times a day will I praise you” is vowed.  And Paul exhorts us to pray, without ceasing.

The Knights of Prayer recommended those beginning a monastic path to pause three times a day, and pray St. Patrick’s Breastplate, The Lord’s Prayer and the Prayer of St Francis, along with some psalms each day.

Then I learned about Lectio Divina, and started building that into my times apart as well, and added the beautiful Compline prayers compiled by the Northumbria Community into my family’s night time routine.

I’d read a lot of Celtic prayers from the Carmina Gadelica as found in Esther de Waal’s books, and was stirred by the knowledge that the Celtic church “Sang their prayers and prayed their songs.”  All spiritual audible expression was sung, chanted or intoned.

To me there is an undeniable link between music and mysticism.  A mystical experience is where connection to, or better yet, Oneness with God is perceived in some inwardly, if not outwardly, tangible way.  The raptures to which music can bring the human heart, believing or otherwise, is widely acknowledged, and I believe is a form in which God reaches out to us.

Reading the Celtic prayers to myself, and aloud with my family, piqued the latent musician in me.  Much as the words blessed me, it wasn’t right.  It wasn’t sung.

Sometimes doing the Morning Office in Celtic Daily prayer, I improvise a tune to portions of it.  I’ve put a Psalm to music, one or two old Celtic prayers.

But then I got the book Chanting the Psalms, by Cynthia Bourgeault and a whole new world has opened up.  I finally understand what “Praying the Hours” really means…

The spiritual athletes of the desert and some in the early Celtic church were known to chant all 150 psalms in a day or night, but St Benedict reduced that demand to all of the Psalms chanted in one week, working through them several times a day at the proscribed hours.

I had always understood the The Divine Office, the Opus Dei, or “work of God” in terms of work done unto God by monks and nuns – praising God by singing His word back to Him.   My reading of the book Chanting the Psalms, and more importantly my experience at trying it, has totally changed that perception.

Of course there is a strong element of praise in the Psalms.  There is raw human emotion. There is solidarity with Jesus – the Psalms appear to be His preferred language in prayer. There is the opportunity to employ them as intercessory prayers for those oppressed, persecuted, or in danger.

But taking multiple times a day apart to chant the Psalms is most importantly a conscious opening up of my heart for God to work in ME!  And it is the primary way monks since the desert era have sought to maintain anamnesis, the conscious ongoing awareness of God. You can see why this got me a little excited!

I’m nearly done my first time through the entire Psalter in chant, using only the most basic of tones.  Lectio divina was meant to come in solitude after chanting the psalms – meditating on a word or phrase that caught the heart during the Office.  I had set it as a stand alone.  What a difference to do it this other way.

Already new ideas for chanting are presenting themselves to me, but the value and peace I have gained guarantee my continuance of this new practice, no matter the form.  I strongly encourage anyone interested in deepening their spiritual practice to get this book (it comes with an instructional CD) and try following this truly ancient path.

[ NB While I find myself not on the same page as the author in all things, the background given on monastic chanting is excellent, as are the tools provided to begin one’s own practice.]

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