Yesterday, I went to an inaugural meeting of the Diocese of NJ's Society of St. Alban. This is a group of clergy newly gathered to offer mutual support and resources for the praying of the Daily Office. What is the Daily Office, you might ask? In the Episcopal Church, there are four occassions provided for in our Book of Common Prayer for the community to gather in prayer: Morning Prayer, Noonday, Evening Prayer and Compline. These offices derive from our earliest beginnings as a Church and tie in to the Benedictine tradition of prayer, study and work/service as the core of daily living in the Body of Christ. Even the earliest documents of the church enjoin us to pray daily and at multiple intervals during the day. The Didache instructs us to offer what is called the Lord's Prayer...commonly the "Our Father..."
Still, why would a priest, whose chief task in life is to offer prayer on behalf of the people, struggle to keep the Daily Office? For me, it is a combination of two things-procrastination and distraction. These two demons are afflictions I have been fighting with for the balance of my earthly existence. Being accountable and in community (as I was in, say, seminary) meant I could find personal discipline. When Morning Prayer happens before the coffee is on in the student lounge...and when the bell for Evensong rings before the grace is said at dinner in the refectory it is easy to keep the Office. When it is "just me" in the office, or when I put off until the last minute the domestic details of the day it becomes too easy to allow the Office to slip by "until next time." Thing is, there often is no next time. There, and then, I lose my way in prayer and in faith to God and community in Christ.
Truth be told, I enjoy daily prayer. I just don't do it enough. It is just like exercise. The more you perform the routines and the more faithful you are to consistent practice from day to day, the better you feel, the easier it is to get going and the greater the benefit in the long run.
I also don't have a single excuse for my avoidance when it comes to resources. I have the support of spouse and friends, who remind me to pray. I have everything I need to keep the Office right at my fingertips. I have a volume that puts the daily readings, prayers and psalms in my hand-all I have to do is shift the ribbons each day. I have the website create by Mission St. Clare that lets me click through the prayers, reading and even hymns selected for the day with a simple tap of the mouse.
There are any number of devotionals and breviaries that can keep my novelty-seeking spirit going for months at a time.
And yet, still, I struggle to keep the Office.
One priest at yesterday's meeting said it best and summed up for me both my struggle and my commitment to become more faithful to keeping the Office-"I find that when I am faithful in the prayers, I am a more effective priest." I can point to times in my life when I have allowed my commitment to simple routine in prayer to fall off, chiefly because I see my faithful discipline as priest, husband, friend, sibling and son flag and fail.
So and hence, the willingness to get in the car on a Tuesday and drive across the state to meet with a group of priests who, regardless of where they are in terms of polity, theology or practice, they are willing to embrace being accountable to each other in prayer.
This morning, as I entered the office, before I turned on the computer and began my day, I made it a point to take my Contemporary Office Book into the sanctuary for some private time between me, my God and the Word. Saying the prayers felt good...and I can honestly say that I feel a deeper focus on the kingdom in and through me when I keep that faithful practice. So, for today, one down and three to go. God give my strength, patience and resolve to say the same tomorrow and the next....