Today’s teaching sermon is focused on the daily office and daily prayer. I thought we might begin by exploring the role of prayer in our lives, share a bit of history about the daily office, and reflect together on how we might continue to grow in our prayer practice.
In her book, Beginner’s Grace: Bringing Prayer to Life, Chaplain Kate Braestrup suggests we need prayer in our lives. She writes:
"What it can do—what prayer, at its best and at our best, has always done—is help us to live consciously, honorably, and compassionately. Because I am not stronger, more self-sufficient, smarter, braver, or any less mortal than my forebears or my neighbors, I need this help. As long as prayer helps me to be more loving, then I need prayer. As long as prayer serves as a potent means of sharing my love with others, I need prayer." 2
Biblical scholar Walter Brueggeman, in his book, Prayers for a Privileged People, also emphasizes our need to be vulnerable and to connect to a Power greater than ourselves. He writes:
“Prayer is an act of openness to the One who sits on the throne of mercy. When we pray, we participate in the ultimate practice of humanness as we yield to a Power greater than ourselves. Our best prayers engage in candor about our lives, practice vulnerability, run risks, and rest in confident trust.” 3
Prayer is a sacred conversation with God. Whether it be individual prayer or community prayer, it has the power to offer up the most tender parts of ourselves to God, and in return we find ourselves better equipped:
…to praise the wonderful mystery of God;
…to discern a way forward;
…to discover the wisdom we seek;
…to persevere and renew our souls;
…to experience the healing power of God’s love in this world;
…to forgive ourselves and one another;
…to trust that we are all held in God’s loving embrace;
…to watch the beauty of God in our lives and creation.
Prayer is at the heart of what sustained and guided Jesus. Prayer would have shaped his early life; and he likely practiced the Jewish tradition of saying private prayers in the morning, at noonday, and in the evening. 1. On the sabbath, he likely would have partaken in the local synagogue’s liturgy of the word, and possibly would have attended a daily morning or evening prayer service.
After Jesus embarked on his public ministry, we routinely see him go off to deserted places to pray alone, in order to reconnect with God and revive his Spirit. (1:35; 6:46) He would often teach about prayer, affirming it really can make a difference, and reminding us that when we pray, we are to forgive others. (11:23-25). Because when we hold onto old wounds, they actually get in the way of our faith, our relationship with God, and even our connection with ourselves. The early Church took Jesus’ teaching on the power of prayer to heart, and in one of Paul’s earliest letters, he tells the Thessalonians to ‘pray without ceasing’. (5:17)
As early as the second century, the early Church had adapted the Jewish liturgies of community morning and evening prayer which included psalms, canticles, scripture readings, and some form of homily or instruction. 1 They also adapted the Jewish tradition of private prayers to mark morning, noon, and evening. By the time Constantine made Christianity the religion of the Roman Empire, these prayers became more formal and consistent across congregations.
Just as these congregational forms of ‘the daily office’ were being established, monastic communities were also developing their own forms.1 These two different forms of daily prayer coexisted for several centuries before melding together. Monastic communities have played a critical role in the development of these liturgies, including the Benedictine practice to stop and pray at eight intervals throughout the day.
Late in the middle ages, the daily office became the duty of monastics and clergy alone, making formal daily prayer inaccessible to the laity. When Thomas Cranmer created the prayerbook, he simplified the number of set times for prayer and published it in English, making daily prayer accessible again.1 Our current prayerbook, The 1979 Book of Common Prayer, features Morning, Noonday, and Evening Prayer, and Compline, as well as four briefer versions of each liturgy that are meant for individual and family use. You may remember that in May of 2020, we took a deep dive into Morning Prayer. Instead of taking a similar deep dive today, I’d encourage you to review that sermon on our website if you are interested in learning more about Morning Prayer. 5
I do want to lift up the handout of resources that the Ushers gave you, and for those at home, I promise it will be posted online with this sermon. The very first resource listed is a favorite - Daily Prayer for All Seasons. This resource is our Church’s effort to extensively modify and expand those four brief daily devotions for individuals and families in the prayerbook. It offers eight different liturgies for each liturgical season, in keeping with the monastic tradition to pray eight set times a day. We use it to begin Clergy/Warden meetings, and we are more grounded as a result.
This handout also includes:
All that being said, there are endless ways to engage in prayer. The prayerbook defines prayer as: “...responding to God, by thought and by deeds, with or without words.” 4
It can be as simple as saying a prayer before each meal. While it can be tempting to rush through a familiar prayer without much thought, I would encourage you to pause when you sit down to eat. Notice the beauty of the meal and the many hands that made it possible; appreciate the company you are eating with, or the space you are enjoying your meal. Give thanks with a formal grace or speak from your heart.
All this is to say, prayer is as much about intention as anything else. Being intentional in our prayer life, expressing gratitude for the small things, has a way of connecting us with the divine, creation, and our own sense of self. What matters is not how you pray, but that you find a way to pray each day. Just as you nurture relationships with a spouse, children, parent, friends, or siblings, take the time to nurture your relationship with God.
Maybe you feel called to keep a list of people or concerns that need prayer. I once had a seminary professor, of the American Baptist persuasion, who said in great seriousness ‘If you tell someone you’ll pray for them, then you better remember to actually pray for them.’ It seems silly, but it is so easy for us to assure a friend or loved one we’ll pray for them, maybe offer up a quick word to God, and then lose track of it. If you are interested in keeping this kind of prayer list - it’s easy - find an old notebook or start a list on your phone. If you are interested in praying for others as a part of your ministry with the church, speak to Molly or myself about getting involved with our prayer circle.
Lastly, I want to leave you with a prayer by Chaplain Kate Braestrup. She writes:
What is Prayer?
… Be awake to the Life that is loving you
and sing your prayer, laugh your prayer,
dance your prayer, run
and weep and sweat your prayer,
sleep your prayer, eat your prayer,
paint, sculpt, hammer and read your prayer,
sweep, dig, rake, drive and hoe your prayer,
garden and farm and build and clean your prayer,
wash, iron, vacuum, sew, embroider and pickle your prayer,
compute, touch, bend and fold but never delete
or mutilate your prayer.
Learn and play your prayer,
work and rest your prayer,
fast and feast your prayer,
argue, talk, whisper, listen and shout your prayer,
groan and moan and spit and sneeze your prayer,
swim and hunt and cook your prayer,
digest and become your prayer.
Release and recover your prayer.
Breathe your prayer.
Be your prayer.2
I hope as we depart this week, that we’ll each find a few minutes to reflect on our prayer practice, and one small way we might continue to deepen that practice. Amen.
1 The information in this paragraph is drawn from Marion J. Hatchett’s Commentary on the American Prayer Book, pages: 89-91
2 Braestrup, Kate. Beginner's Grace: Bringing Prayer to Life, Kindle Edition, page 9, 175-176.
3 Brueggemann, Walter. Prayers for a Privileged People
4 The 1979 Book of Common Prayer, pg 857
The Daily Office - Resources
Daily Prayer for All Seasons
This is a favorite prayer resource for Heather & Molly. The book offers brief sets of contemporary prayer for eight times during the day for each liturgical season. The themes are: praise, discernment, wisdom, perseverance and renewal, love, forgiveness, trust, and watch. You can purchase this book online, with a local bookseller, or download a free pdf: www.episcopalchurch.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/2021/01/daily_prayer_all_seasons_eng_final_pages_0.pdf
The 1979 Book of Common Prayer
We own a great many copies of the prayer book, and are happy to lend them to folks who would like to use them. They are kept in the right hand upper cupboard of the sound cabinet (unlocked). If you need help finding them, speak to the clergy.
A simple, easy to navigate web version of the prayerbook; ideal for desktops: https://www.bcponline.org/
Electronic Common Prayer
A version of the prayer book for smartphones or tablets. Find in most app stores.
Daily Devotions for Individuals and FamiliesThis may be found in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, pages 136 - 140. It is a simplified version of the daily office. The Daily Prayer for All Seasons resource was seen as an expansion of these five pages.
The Daily Office:
Instructed Morning Prayer Sermon
You can read a sermon given outlining the Morning Prayer liturgy in detail that Rev. Heather gave in the early days of the pandemic. It is available on our website: https://www.saintsjamesandandrew.org/sermons/instructed-morning-prayer
The 1979 Book of Common Prayer
Consider trying out one of these sets of prayers from the daily office. If you want to start with something simple, try saying Compline in the evening. It has some of the most beautiful prayers in the entire prayerbook.
Digital Daily Office with Forward Movement
Forward Movement has put together a simple and fantastic digital format to engage in prayer Morning, Noon, Evening, or Compline. In addition to the liturgies themselves, they include the daily office readings, their forward day by day reflection on the day’s readings, and they even have an option to maintain a daily prayer list that is local to your device. You can also listen to Morning Prayer being led by another person on their site. https://prayer.forwardmovement.org/home/menu
If you are interested in reading the assigned readings for Morning Prayer or Evening Prayer, you will want to explore the Daily Lectionary:
Praying With Others
The pandemic has meant that thousands of faith communities have taken their worship online, and you can join other parishes for prayer Morning, Noon, Evening, or Compline. You might check out:
Prayers & Thanksgivings
Be sure to check out Prayers and Thanksgivings, which offers prayers for any occasion under the sun in The 1979 Book of Common Prayer, pages 810-841
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