I’m not sure when it began, but years ago the Office of Morning Prayer became my daily discipline for time with God. The daily lectionary takes me through most of the bible once every two years, and I often find myself wandering off into extended readings. Collects for each day redirect my conversation with God from the routine of the usual and often banal litany of prayerish type thoughts. Reading the psalms once every seven weeks keeps me in touch with the best and worst of my own inner thoughts and feelings. And I am constantly provoked to remember before God the needs of people whom I often forget and ignore (sometimes they are me).
The Office was not intended as a private meditation but as a work in community taken from the ancient hours of prayer kept in monasteries and cathedrals. It’s a beautiful service that dictated the beginning and end of the day during my years in seminary. I suppose that someone in a hurry could rush through it in ten or fifteen minutes, although I cannot imagine what purpose that would serve. The comics page in the morning paper might be a better use of such limited time. But I digress.
Intended or not, I have found it to be the perfect vehicle for my private time with God, but it can be hard work, even boring work. Days never quite get off on the right foot if I don’t have my time with God in the discipline of Morning Prayer, but some days it just seems like another burdensome obligation to get over with before the real work of the day gets underway. I find myself dithering away with inconsequential puttering before finally sitting down in the quiet of my study to talk with God, and wondering if we might not make this a quick one. Looking out the window, I simultaneously ask to be reminded that I am ever walking in God’s sight and deciding how best to trim the bushes. The passing squirrel takes me away from whatever scripture is open. A beep from the computer entices me with what must be an important e-mail from…from who? My nose is runny, my back itches, the dog wants out, now he wants in, I have to change that light bulb, what’s my first meeting of the day, should I get another cup of coffee. God seems to take second place to just about any trivial thought that drifts in and out of my consciousness.
Still, the discipline of Morning Prayer holds. What could be a quick ten minute read turns into a half hour, and then an hour. Formal prayer turns into conversation. Sometimes I give God a chance to get a word in. Whatever time the alarm goes off, I know I have to allow at least an hour with God before anything else happens. That hour is often eroded by my short attention span, but I need the whole hour in any case. So what good does it do? I’m not sure. I only know that the day is not right without it. How prayer works is a mystery to me. Maybe it doesn’t work at all, at least not in the sense that we normally think about how things work or not work to get something done. What I do know is that I have been led away from prayer as a laundry list of things I want God to do, and into communion with God who seems to be willing to spend more time with me than I with him. Maybe that is what prayer is all about.