Friday, December 31, 2010

Day by day we praise you: an introduction to the Daily Office

3. The Setting for Daily Office

Since beginning in 1983, I have offered daily prayers to God in a wide variety of locations. I have said Office in hotel rooms, on vacation, in subway cars, busses, on airplanes (getting some interesting looks from my fellow passengers), in cathedrals and a seminary chapel (joining in beautiful choral liturgies), by the side of the ocean, in my place of work, in cemeteries (pulling off the road on a journey), and with small groups on retreats or at meetings. Through it all, I have marveled at the flexibility of the Office.

The vast majority of times, though, I have prayed the Daily Office at home, occasionally with my wife, but usually just with the saints and angels as we offer “spiritual sacrifices” to God the Holy Trinity. Since this is the case for many people, I would like to take time to think for a bit about the setting for our prayers.

I am a visually-inclined person. The environment around me “counts.” Thus, for me, the place where I normally offer the Daily Office has the “air of sanctity” about it. This means a wall cross, icons, candles, a place to kneel, a place for holy water, a vessel for incense, and a few other such appointments. In short, I have over the years assembled something of a small oratory or chapel for saying Office.

Are these things essential? No. But, they are a joy and a point of focus wherein I experience “the beauty of holiness,” affirming the goodness of Creation and the centrality of the Incarnation. Anglicanism has no fundamental quibble with this either in our churches or at home.

However, there are many people for whom such adornments are of no particular value. For them, the setting for their prayer is almost immaterial. They, too, are praying well within the Anglican tradition’s embrace.

The key point is that we find a setting which is as free from distraction as possible and encourages the prayerful encounter God seeks with us, and we with God. Some suggestions toward this end include:
  • Using a room with a door (Matthew 6:6) for privacy and quiet
  • Having something upon which to focus visually (a cross, candle, icon, &c.)
  • Silencing phones or other devices; our prayer must take absolute priority

Some people find it helpful to assume the physical positions (standing, kneeling, sitting) found in the rubrics (directions in italics for carrying out the service). Others do not. One long-time prayer of the Office I know, who suffers from a number physical debilities, has told me “the first thing I need to find in order to pray Office without distraction is a comfortable chair, so my mind isn’t on my aches and pains!”

If you are blessed to be near a church offering the Daily Office as a public service, you might consider making attendance part of your Rule of Life (minimum commitment of spiritual practice). If your local parish does not offer a public Office, you might want to talk with the clergy or lay person in charge about establishing that custom. As the Church gradually is forced to return to its essential mission (forsaking the blind and discordant alleys of recent decades), there are signs that the richness and wholeness of our tradition will increasingly appeal to our spiritually-impoverished and fragmented world. Since the Daily Office does not require the presence of an ordained person to be offered, this is an ideal opportunity for the laity to take leadership in the parish’s worship and mission to our needy society.

Whether said at church or at home or someplace else, the regular setting for the Daily Office must allow us to focus on the loving relationship between the Holy Trinity and ourselves. Now, let us learn the basic “grammar” of the Daily Office, that this daily love song may commence, continue, and culminate in eternal joy.

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