The Divine Office is the teenager who stays home from a dance to attend a family get-together.
It is the husband whose wife doesn’t have to prod him to put down the newspaper or turn off the television.
The Divine Office is the wife who gets small children peaceably ready for bed after dinner so she can spend the rest of the evening with her husband.
Our personal Divine Office is the time we would like to spend in prayer for our families and churches and nations, but never seem able to acquire.
So far, unless it must diverge, this blog is written for all of those who have monastic hearts, hearts to live out their interior lives in an effectual devotion to God. So far, we are in this together, but there are those among us who have long evenings alone stretching before them, with nothing but time to do with as they please, and there are those who, at best, must fit God in between dinner, chores, children, and the life and health of their marriages. These lifestyles are quite dissimilar, but for the heart of worship.
Who understands this time/effort paradigm better than our God and Father, Elohim, the Creator God, who gave us marriage, family, obligations … and for almost all of us, eventually, solitude? Who but He can measure five devoted minutes on a scale with 55 devoted minutes and call them equally weighty?
He also gave us grace and the ability to set the course for our souls, to make choices between those things which profit and those which do not, and he gave us the mental capacity to see that a little time well spent, when that’s all we have, is far better than none invested because we wish we had more!
After more than ten years in this at-home Abbey, I can tell you that the hard part is still just taking the time I’ve been given. I can also tell you, it does get better when one keeps trudging along inside the verges of one’s own Divine Office.
Trudging? Trudging? Trudging toward a glorious relationship with God?
It isn’t the relationship that’s tedious or painstaking, far from it. It’s the keeping to the path that is so daunting. One of us refers to it as a path “with handrails.” How is it possible that after so many years of knowing the mercies and the graces and the goodness of God, that we still say, “Not tonight, my Lord; I have a headache.”
I will not often get personal in this narrative and over these days together, but I think you may enjoy this little vignette.
After my husband died, about a week after his funeral, I finished dinner and faced my first evening alone. Our children had been here for nearly a month prior to his death and afterward, helping one another, comforting, showing the wonderful stuff they’re made of. Friends and neighbors had kept up a steady stream of every kind of assistance and kindness, never overbearing, just available and removing every possible practical difficulty. Now, for the first time, I looked around and faced the rest of my life alone in the house, alone in my heart, no longer married, no longer one of two in love.
However … I had been practicing these tiny Divine Offices for six or seven years. A few minutes here, a few minutes there, tiny disciplines of thanksgiving and intercession and stillness, and I had told the Lord the night Frank died – propped up on pillows, alone in our bed – that I was determined to spend the rest of my life grateful for what Frank and I had been given instead of mourning over what had been taken. I knew and I said, as King David had said, “He will not come to me, but I will go to him,” and that was the end of the matter, except for the three and a half years it took to begin to get used to living without him.
So, on that first night alone, I did the dishes and put them away, picked up my Bible and went into the den. I sat in Frank’s chair. I said to the Lord, “I will be to you what I was to Frank, and I hope even more, if You will give me grace for it. My evenings are Yours; I’m Yours … I won’t make You look like a poor substitute for a great husband.”
I opened my Bible, and my eyes fell upon a verse, an obscure verse in Jeremiah … that I had been trying to locate for ages. It was just a little verse of Scripture, but I had looked and looked for it; it was something lovely the Lord had shown me long before that I didn’t want to lose. It wasn’t relative to marriage or death or anything immediately pertinent, just something lost, now found. Perhaps one day I will tell you about it, but that wasn’t the point then or now. It was just a little present, a little something wrapped in love, as if it had been a bracelet I had seen and admired and Frank had gone back to get it for me and keep it for a special moment. “Here, darling, this is for you.”
The joy, like a wedded bliss, that flooded my heart was indescribable. I knew I’d been heard, I knew I’d been taken seriously, I knew beyond doubt then or now that my Lord was glad I was there with Him, and I knew that, for whatever reason Frank had died so relatively young and all our future cut off, all was well and that I would mourn with a healthy hope. I was Frank’s, but now I am the Lord’s, in a very special way. He is not a poor substitute for any loss; He is all and in all, and He is ours and we are His.
Thus began this more intense version of my Divine Office, but I can speak to you from both perspectives, both the snatching what time you have and filling more time than you wanted. The key, I believe, is to remember this: we are making a freewill offering. Nobody forces this devoted life upon us. There are societies aplenty for men and women alone and men and women too busy already. There are books to read and a few really good television programs and some great movies and good time to spend with dear friends. There is also a Lord, a Savior Who is Lord, near enough to touch, well able to comfort and inspire and revive any soul.
One more personal observation, and then we will return to our look into the rudiments of disciplined devotion … while it is true that I wept at times as though my heart would burst through my chest, it was always for missing Frank and always with a sweet gratitude, no matter how devastating the sorrow. I think those years of what seemed like catch-penny devotion made the difference, along with a will to obey what I was learning along the path.
Iglesia Santa Maria monastery
ecelan, by permission, Wikipedia