The sun is edging up over the eastern horizon this morning --- high time. It’s been wet again here --- not dramatically so, but wet --- and hot (it’s not the heat, it’s the humidity, you know). Tempted to do more complaining, I took a look at the morning reports from Pakistan --- by comparison nothing to complain about at all.
I’ve been running in circles this week, literally, museum to library to church to home, and not accomplishing very much at any of those locations, or so it seems. The decision to move a piece of furniture in the museum library, located in a place that offended my sense of order, led to a back ache. Head deep in a sacristy cupboard at church yesterday, I rose up abruptly when a terrible commotion erupted out front --- and cracked my head. Whine, whine, whine.
The commotion turned out to be a giant dumpster being moved into place --- almost blocking the dry (paved) approaches to the front door. We’re due to get a new roof --- at great expense, although such things have to be done every 20-30 years. For the duration of that project we’ll have two bishops --- one of the Episcopal Diocese of Iowa; the other, bishop of the old-order church district south of town whose crew will do the reroofing. I doubt the Episcopal bishop will drive down to crawl around on our roof, however.
On a more positive note, I’ve been doing much better this summer on the Daily Office --- and that’s what the title refers to --- not that place we go to earn some money, volunteer our time or sort out tangled bookwork.
Episcopalians call this daily round of prayer Daily Office, based upon the Latin “officium divinium” or divine service/obligation. Roman Catholics tend to call by the more straightforward translation, “Divine Office,” or Liturgy of the Hours” or “Opus Dei” (work of God).
Everyone of faith does essentially the same thing --- pray at regular intervals; we just have more interesting titles for it. Many others, of course, don’t do it at all --- looking upon prayer as a foolish concept, something to do only in church or as a last desperate cry for help in a dire situation.
This is not a sermon, so I’m not necessarily promoting anything. I can only tell you that my day always goes better when I do it, or at least part of it --- although that’s not necessarily easy. I awake brain dead at about 5 most mornings, so coffee comes first and that artificial jolt some days leads to distractions. Evening prayers can be a little like the promise to yourself never to let the sun set on a sink full of dirty dishes. Whoops. Blew it again.
The illustration here divides the day into eight canonical hours --- Matins, Lauds, Prime, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers and Compline. The number of hours has waxed and waned as the centuries have passed, but all can be traced to monastic traditions, a legacy all Christians share although some protestants can be cranky about acknowledging that and some Roman Catholics can be cranky about allowing it.
The Episcopal/Anglican tradition has condensed the hours (and the offices) to fourfold --- morning prayer, noonday prayer, evening prayer and compline. Episcopal clergy are required to pray at least morning and evening prayer --- although so far as I know there is no liturgical police force to enforce that. The rest of us do what we can or are led to do.
We follow forms set out in the Book of Common Prayer, a little (well actually there are 1,001 pages at last count but that includes the Psalter) book I recommend highly, if only (for those not interested in prayer) for use of the English language. Some of that ranks right up there with the beauty of the King James translation of the Bible.
I have favorites.
To hear that ancient hymn “Phos hilaron,” or “O Gracious Light,” part of Evening Prayer, chanted skillfully in a public service at day’s end is heavenly.
This Compline prayer stops me cold every time:
“Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or weep this night, and give your angels charge over those who sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous; and all for your love’s sake. Amen.”
I think we’re agreed by now that the Internet can be a source for wonderful stuff, or of previously unimagined but easily located evil.
One of my favorites under the “wonderful stuff” header is the Daily Office site maintained by the Mission of St. Clare, which will lead you step by step through morning and evening prayer in the Episcopal tradition, including text, musical accompaniment if you care to sing along with the hymns, canticles and psalms, even an increasing number of chants, including an especially beautiful version of “Phos Hilaron” under “Evening Prayer.”
The site’s been linked under “Episcopaliana” in the sidebar here for as long as this blog has been here. Or just go there directly by clicking here. Give it a try if you like. Can't hurt. And who knows, one thing might lead to another. And that "another" needs by no means to be Episcopalian. Noonday Prayer and Compline are there, too, as well as a bunch of other stuff.