The life of the Christian is trinitarian in nature, organically rooted around the Daily Office, Eucharist, and interior prayer. These three are understood in the Benedictine tradition as the foundation of the acetic life. Ascetical refers to the life of prayer and growth in the Spirit.
I have ranted in a recent sermon about how not everything is a “journey.” It seems like this phrase is usually a cover for being unwilling to progress. In our life of faith, we should be growing up, going somewhere we call maturity. Much of what we see in terms of “perfection” in the New Testament could just as easily be translated as “maturity” or “completion.”
In Martin Thornton’s picture of the influence of Benedict on English Spirituality, he sees the Office as the part of the life of the Christian and Church as particular to God the Father. It is in the Office where we do our work of worship and showing up and growing up, taking up a practice that is beyond us and our opinions, where we deal with things that are often beyond us and even deeply challenging for us.
Worship is both the act of praising God, picture standing arms outstretched and smiling, and humbly coming into the presence for help, forgiveness, and petition, picture hands folded bowing. It is the bringing of our fullness and placing it before God and remembering who is who.
The Office is great for worship because it is heavily Scriptural. Coming out and condensing the Hours of the Rule of Benedict, it distills the worship of the Bible and relies on the Psalms and songs of Scripture and adds in the reading of the Bible in large chunks. This word-heavy, passage-intense worship is laden with images, stories, and even words that are difficult and deal with emotions and work that we don’t necessarily want to deal with. In the Office we submit to the work of becoming who God wants us to be.
Sometimes that is emotional work and totally relevant to the moment we are in. I can’t tell you the number of times the Bible in Morning Prayer seems like it was written for the day I was in. It is shocking. Other times I can go for weeks just plugging along reading and praying the prayers because I said I would.
It is faithfulness even when my emotions are not there that really matters. If I was only a faithful husband laying in bed on a Saturday mornings when the sun gently lighting the waking smile of my beautiful bride, but not when we fought or I was disappointed or bored . . . well I wouldn’t be able to call her my “wife” for very long. Right?
Jesus uses two words for Father, Pater (Latin) or Abba (Aramaic). The office is about submitting to both. We submit to Abba, better translated as “daddy”, when we curl up in the lap of God as we pray, and we find that overwhelming sense of warmth and home. We submit to Pater, Father, when we stick it out and allow ourselves to be shaped by the faithfulness of the long haul and stay on the road despite the boredom, ennui, and demands of the journey.
The Office is really simple. I use a website or an app most of the time. I have books and Bibles, which I prefer with time. But I keep the Office, morning and night, and often in places where I have to be on my feet.
I will teach you the Office if you need it. Email me. Or I can place you with a coach. We have several in the parish. It matters. As we explore the trinity of expression in our ascetical life, we begin with Benedict in the Office, being faithful.
In the Benedictine way the vows are obedience, stability, and transformation. We meet all three vows in the practice of the Office. In our faithful keeping of the hours, we are obedient to the larger worship of the church to God, we find stability amidst the changes of our days and emotions, and we are transformed to the likeness of our Father Abba. We become stable enough to love, obedient enough to love even when difficult, and transformed in grace.
As a pastor I watch this play out in the lives of my parishioners and friends. Their faithfulness in the practice becomes visible in their emotional, psychological health, their balance and theological understanding becomes a steady openness in debate possible with a sound foundation in the Bible and prayer. They are more and more flexible and unshakeable as they grow. I am in awe really of their growth.
Which brings a final point. The Office is not clerical. It belongs to the whole Church of which we collared ones are just members with jobs. The liturgical movement has done some wonderful things for the Church universal, but for us it has meant the elevation of the Eucharist above the Office and interior prayer. This has left us with a heart that depends of the clergy. It has meant the rise of “fathers” and the diminishment of the faithful laity. Keeping the Office in balance empowers the laity to take their rightful place as informed, formed followers of the Christ we worship and obey in the Eucharist.
*Notes: The Book of Common Prayer Morning and Evening Prayers are found between pages 75 – 126 in modern idiom. The Daily Office lectionary readings are found on pages 931 and following. The instructions are all in the BCP, but a coach or mentor or group is highly recommended.
As noted above I rely on the app and website offered by http://missionstclare.com . There are also very good sites out there and apps that I have used and relied on. I use an iPhone, and there are several apps in the iOS store. I would highly recommend the one offered by Forward Movement. I would never have been able to do the Office alone without Mission St. Clare’s website years ago.