We’ve come at last, to our very first prescribed Office. Who prescribes it? Each, for herself, as it will always be, but if you are willing, let’s take that idea of reading through the Psalms and make it work for us.
First, we choose a time of day that we can command, a time that is usually our own when we can claim about five minutes to do with as we please. For now, try to schedule it during other than the early morning hours. Many already have a morning practice of prayer and Bible reading, and if not, we will fill those first minutes of the day with wonderful delights of devotion before long. Meanwhile, we are endeavoring to find our way back to the Lord at least three or four times during each day, which for most of us is the more difficult part. Once we get rolling, so to speak, we like to fly, but this is the beginning of our own Opus Dei, the “work of God.” Here are Jesus’ words to the man who asked how he might busy himself with the work of God:
“This is the work of God; to believe In the One He has sent.” (John 6:29, NIV)
Whatever five-minute timeslot you choose, mid-morning, noon, mid- or late-afternoon, there is probably an Office that corresponds with the time! We will get to know them and their various contributions to a monastic day – Vespers, None, Compline, Lauds, and more. They are classically beneficial to a busy schedule, but this is your Office, and you can call it whatever you want! For now, find a time and frame it, not at 9:00 in the morning or 3:00 in the afternoon, but put it, “First thing after the children are down for their naps,” or “before washing the breakfast dishes” – or right after, if you are good at keeping your word to yourself. It is difficult for most of us, once we start moving, to stop, like those Newtonian laws of physics we all learned. (A body at rest tends to stay at rest, and a body in motion tends to stay in motion!)
We do stop when we are acted upon by an opposing force, like an invitation to afternoon coffee! Even so, many of us can claim to have turned down attractive invitations on occasion because we were caught up in a whirlwind of housecleaning or scrapbooking. Which one of us hasn’t stayed home sometimes just in order to sit in front of a favorite movie or television program? Speaking Newtonianally, we were in motion, sitting on the couch. We were actively watching the show we did not want to miss! When it was over, then we had to deal with the inertia into which our physical bodies had sunk; they were at rest and sometimes we watched another movie because they were tending to stay at rest!
Monastics can tell you that all these principles can be put to very good use for us. Here in Cor Unum Abbey, we introduce opposing forces of our own choosing, devotions and dedications that oppose our spiritual inertia, and in inverse proportion, we begin to find rest from our labors no matter how hard we work mentally and physically, because we choose stillness as well. The day will come, my dear Sisters, when spiritual rest will be such a powerful reality for us that we will tend to stay at rest, even from former all-consuming efforts toward self-justification and manipulations. The day will come when our tendency to “earnestly contend for the faith that was once delivered to the saints” (Jude 1:3) and our aptitude for abiding in Christ (John 15:4-9) will not be extinguished. There will be no opposition with enough force to interrupt our trajectory. We must begin with a simple decision never to turn back.
“ Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.
“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.
“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love.”
We are training ourselves to take time with the Lord. Before long, we will find that we have a new velocity toward the Lord. Tremendous winds do not keep big jets from reaching their destinations. While airline flights are sometimes canceled for safety’s sake, nothing can keep us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:39) Here in this Abbey, that means nothing can keep us from returning that love in worship and prayer and in seeking the place of abiding of which Jesus spoke, not even if we miss our prescribed time now and again. That isn’t the perfection we seek; ours will become the perfect heart of love for God that will not be denied. We are developing hearts that won’t permit the winds of distraction or even our many failures to keep us from our destination.
Now, back to our five-minute Office in the Psalms. We might fit in as soon as we get home from work, in our rooms just before changing clothes and going out to conduct the rest of the evening. Perhaps you can take time just before or after your shower, when you have a little bit of solitude to call your own. For most of us, it isn’t that we can’t take five minutes, it is that we have become accustomed to lingering over more entertaining pursuits and leisures and then rushing through the God-ordained structures in our lives.
Before technology, for which we are very grateful, the lighting of lamps and the milking of cows and the laying of wood for the morning fire hemmed in the hours of every day and every season. There were dozens of little absolutely necessary intervals in place. In order to regain all those lost boundaries, we must find the ones that work for us where we are.
We spoke of children and naptime, for instance. This is a perfect example of how we may establish a Divine Office that can be kept. Oh, the joys of welcoming children into your Abbey! Find a children’s version of the Bible and read a Psalm to them as you put them down to sleep every afternoon. You will need time by yourself and you will learn to find it, but young mothers can work in several extra Offices by including your little ones.
That, dear ones, is your first new Office, however you spend it and wherever you put it. It might be your second or third interval with the Lord, if you are already praying and reading your Bible morning and evening, but we will make this one special because it does interrupt the tug of the day, and that’s the whole idea.
Because this is a very short Office – and because it is the Psalms and often prayerful in nature – kneel as you read, if you can. You might find that this will become a simple and healthy benefit for your soul. We will talk more about those oft-maligned practices that have meaning and power in the Scripture. Otherwise, just quiet your heart and devote your attention to every word as best you are able. Before long you will be making each reading a prayerful, worshipful experience, every day, after you’ve had your tea … or brought in the mail … or taken the dog for a walk … but continually and with increasing power to reflect and believe!
We are headed toward our hearts’ desire, that we would be able to worship and pray and give thanks and listen and obey and fill our hearts with the love of God every day and throughout the day, never checking Him off a list, but always acknowledging the fervor with which our spirits long for Him unceasingly. Ours is to live in Him and learn of Him and hear His Voice and pray until our faith receives the answer.
We will talk further about the time-honored methods of reading prayerfully, but for now, as you read a Psalm each day (start wherever you wish, and just keep going!), try to read aloud if you can, even if in a whisper, and don’t hesitate to put all the joy and glory and pathos into your reading that is there in the text!
One last thing: now that you have a Psalms Office, sanctify that time to the Lord. Don’t be afraid; He won’t smite you with boils if you fail to keep it perfectly. What do we think of Him?? If you want to return to the experience of His Presence time and again, and not just on the run, He wants you there. Give those minutes to Him, and He will be waiting when you arrive and come looking for you to bless you if you can’t make it. He is the lover of our souls. He will be at least as gracious to us while we are making these monastic decisions as we would be toward a child trying for love’s sake to sweep the kitchen with a toy broom. Wouldn’t you agree?
Miss Auras, John Lavery
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