Praying the Divine Office ( also called The Daily Office)
Since the earliest days of Christianity, the Psalms, from the Old Testament of the Bible, have been recited and prayed in imitation of Christ who knew and prayed them. Once they were always recited in Latin but now they are widely accessible to everyone (lay and clergy) in English.
Praying the Divine Office (also known as the”breviary”) is obligatory for clergy and most religious. It is greatly enriching for lay people who choose to pray it, whether individually or in groups
The psalms, plus additional prayers and readings, are laid out following Monastic tradition for specific times of the day, over a four week cycle. Some may choose to read all the day's Offices, and some people prefer to just read Morning or Evening Prayer. Whatever the choice, they can be a bedrock of prayer uniting one with the whole Church wherever one lives.
Book copies range from the heavier three-volume complete Divine Office, to the Shorter Form of Morning and Evening Prayer, both published by Collins.
A much more accessible form is by using Universalis, which can be had as an app on a smartphone, tablet or Ipad. A wonderful way to always carry it with you and read it anywhere, any time.
All the great teachers on Spirituality have found silence to be essential to their deepening and sustaining life in Christ. From the Desert Fathers and Mothers to teachers of our own age, such as the Centre for Action and Contemplation (see www.cac.org ).
Each of us in our own individual way can find a path to this richness. It is an invitation to lay and clergy, to young and old. A pearl of great price which is often hard sought, lost and refound.
Two recent publications by Augustinians may help. Click here for brief reviews of books by Martin Laird and Ben O'Rourk.
Praying in silence is as old as recorded praying, with words or “words of prayer” mentioned in the Old Testament - see stories of Abraham, Elijah, and Daniel. We have accounts of Jesus after a busy day going out into the night to be alone with the Father; and the words from Matthew's Gospel Ch 6 “When you pray go to your private room and, when you have shut the door, pray to your Father”. The Desert Fathers and Mothers of the 3rd and 4th centuries valued silence, as did St Benedict writing his Rule in the 5th century, and may people through to our own times of Thomas Merton, and The World Community for Christian Meditation, led by Laurence Freeman OSB.
Whether it is called Prayer of Silence, or more often Prayer of Quiet, or Meditation or Contemplation, it is a practice of prayer for all people. It is not just for those in Religious life, or only for introverts or the elderly. God is a loving Father to all his children - he has no favourites.
The Prayer of Silence is not the negative of shutting out all sounds but of stilling the heart and mind. Martha in the gospel was asked to give up her fretting not her loving service.
Getting started on something so simple yet profound may feel daunting. It is about resting in the presence of God without expectations or demands on either side. Psalm 131 says it is “Like a weaned child in its mother's arms”. Of just being one with God who is also just being, because he is One. It embraces the ever deepening awareness of the indwelling presence of the living God within oneself. Jesus in St John's gospel ch 14 gives the promise to those who love him that he and the Father will come to them and make a home there.
Here are a few general pointers that may be of use, but if you have found your own way do what suits you.
1. Have no expectations but as time goes by let your prayer life flow into the rest of your life and colour your intentions and actions more and more.
2. Find a regular quiet time to set aside for Silent Prayer. For some this will not be too difficult but others may struggle in a busy work schedule or household. If necessary it could be at the kitchen table with a late night cup of tea, walking the dog or on the train commuting to work (headphones with background music could help here).
3.If you have a quiet space, lighting a candle or holding a stone can help the mind focus (look for free Apps of virtual candles on smart phones etc)
4. Decide on the length of time ie 10mins, 20 mins. Starting with a short 5mins may be helpful. Setting a timer can useful to those who clock watch.
5. Sit comfortably with both feet on the ground and the back supported.
6. Ask God for the grace to rest in his peace for this time.
7. Like the Desert Fathers and Mothers, find a phrase to repeat over and over such as Jesus mercy, Emmanuel, Come Lord Jesus. Often the same one is used for years and years. But don't analyse why you have chosen this it's not a mind exercise.
8. Be aware of the sounds around you. Don't fight them or strain to hear them. Just note them and go back to repeating slowly your word or phrase.
9. Be aware of your body any aches and pains or stress, but don't dwell on them note them and go back to your word or phrase
10. Breath the word or phrase slowly in and out and settle into a relaxed prayer time.
11. When distractions come and they inevitably will, just note them like you did the extraneous sounds at the beginning.
12. If regular disturbing thoughts of anxiety, anger, fear, pride occur, Martin Laird in his book Into the Silent Land recommends naming them, like putting a label on a video recording but don't rerun it. At another time outside this prayer session you might consider the significance of these labels.
13. Stay with your Silent Prayer time repeating your word or phrase or letting it gently fade away till you timer rings.
14. Thank God for you special time together whether it felt calm, fruitful or dry.
15. Ask for the grace to return again tomorrow and the next day to the God who is always faithful with his love and compassion for all his people.
Return to your active life, mindfully aware that Silent Prayer/Meditation is not just about the short period of calmly being quiet and still but it is living united with God in each activity in the present moment.
On the Events page is a notice of a regular Friday-morning opportunity for silent meditation in common, at All Saints C of E church in Earls Barton.
Here's a poem by Thomas Merton which may be helpful:
THE STILL POINT
At the centre of our being is
a point of nothingness
which is untouched by sin and by illusion,
a point of pure truth, a point or spark
which belongs entirely to God,
which is never at our disposal,
from which God disposes of our lives,
which is inaccessible
to the fantasies of our own mind
or the brutalities of our own will.
This little point of nothingness
and absolute poverty is
the pure glory of God in us.
It is, so to speak,
His Name written in us.
Thomas Merton: “Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander” p 158