“I think you have shingles,” the doctor said, examining the rash that ran up my arm as I described the discomfort in my neck and shoulders which had worsened into the screaming pain I now felt. Unfortunately, I had missed the window when antivirals would have been most effective, so I was now in for three weeks of agonizing and debilitating pain, lots of meds, and disturbed sleep. Worse yet, shingles hit while I was reeling from some heavy situations that had pushed me into a morass of disorientation and weariness.
Amid this desolation, I began to discover an upholding gift in the Daily Office—the ancient practice of morning, midday, and evening prayers. The Offices originated in the monastic communities of the early Christian centuries and are practiced in Anglican and Catholic traditions. Services of morning and evening prayer, they incorporate Psalms and other readings of Scripture, the Lord’s Prayer, collects (short, set prayers), confession, thanksgiving, petition, and benediction.
Earlier in the year, a few months into the COVID-19 pandemic, I had started practicing the Daily Office—not every morning and evening, but regularly enough that I was forming a habit of prayer and solitude. And so, the evening I was diagnosed, I prayed the Office as I went to bed. Continuing the cycle of morning and evening prayers those terrible weeks steadied me and brought the light and comfort of Christ into my darkness and distress.
It has been a slow nine-month recovery, happening during the pandemic, together with waves of difficult events and losses that have brought fear, bewilderment, anger, discouragement, and sorrow. Through all the turmoil, this spiritual practice has accompanied, anchored, and even transformed me through the struggle and hardship as I’ve been led to lean into Jesus. As I practice this ancient pattern of prayer, I am discovering what a sustaining gift it can be.
The Gift of Framing
The Daily Office, also called the Liturgy of the Hours, creates a frame for the day. Just as the framing of a building gives it shape and support, the Office frames the hours in my day, setting the tone or rhythm. It’s not another item to fit into my list of obligations, rather, setting aside sacred times for prayer and to be with God at the beginning and end of the day (and throughout) is a way to order life. Monastic communities centre all of life’s activities around these prayers; they are the fundamental rhythm of their communal life. I see this kind of ordering in Jesus’ life in His setting aside times of solitude to be with His Father: “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed” (Mark 1:35).
I imagine these were times of praying the Psalms and nurturing His intimate connection with His Father, which prepared and enabled Jesus to do His Father’s work in the world.
This practice also helps frame how I live out my day as I proclaim and affirm who God is—good, faithful, personal, powerful, at work in our world, restoring all creation to Himself. As I pray, I find myself in the presence of the Creator of the universe and my Source of life; He reminds me that He is God, and I am not. He invites me to rejoice in each day as a gift, to respond with praise and thanks, to commit myself, waking and sleeping, to Him, to know that I am held, whether in joy or sorrow.
When pain and helplessness gripped me, these regular times of prayer reminded me that God sees and holds me and my days. He hears and responds to my cries. He is my trustworthy Good Shepherd who provides for me. I was awakened to the reality of Jesus’ presence, grace, and closeness—that He is the suffering Christ who intimately knows my pain and darkness and brings consolation beyond understanding.
The Gift of Words
The set words and structure are another gift of the Daily Office. I grew up in the Anglican tradition, praying the same prayers Sunday after Sunday. Being a “good girl,” I followed along dutifully. I memorized the words and “knew” them, the way I knew about God, with my mind but not my heart. As my spiritual journey progressed, I came to know God more personally, and He started reconnecting my head and heart. I dismissed this way of prayer and explored praying extemporaneously and with my imagination. But eventually, I sensed an invitation back to the prayers of my childhood.
Approaching these prayers as a more whole person has opened me up to discover them anew. I now pray the words from a deeper place—engaging my head, my heart, my body, and even my imagination. When I contemplate the words of the Office, I’m struck by how beautifully and thoughtfully they have been written and arranged and how Scripture saturates them. I am aware of their depth, richness and meaning; they describe the reality of our triune God and lead me into that reality.
I realize too, that those words I prayed all those childhood Sundays were not senseless repetition; rather, they have shaped me and my spirituality and deepened in me the truth of God’s character. As I “go through the motions” and pray the words with my heart, mind, and soul each day, I discover the gift in the words, and they form me. In the Offices I follow, I begin each morning with Psalm 63:1 (NIV): “You, God, are my God, earnestly I seek you; I thirst for you, my whole being longs for you…” Praying this day after day, week after week, has done something in me. I am reminded that whatever the day may bring, God is God, He is my God, and I am His. I am being awakened to my deepest yearning, which is for God Himself; only He can quench my soul’s thirst and so I am led to seek Him all the more.
Yet another gift of these set prayers is that they are, simply, there—for me to pray when I don’t know how to pray. During this shingles journey, I had times of overwhelming pain, mind fog, and slowness. Words and thoughts were often elusive and out of my grasp, or I just didn’t have anything in me to pray. It was reassuring to have the words there before me. They made a way for me to articulate the truths about God, even when I wasn’t sure of them or didn’t feel it. They gave voice to the wordless cries of my heart and taught me how to pray.
The Gift of Connection
Lastly, through the Daily Office I have experienced the gift of connection—to God, myself, and others.
This spiritual practice makes a way to abide in Jesus as He abides in me; it assures me of His certain presence with me. It continually points me to Father, Son, and Spirit, in whom I find my true home; Jesus draws me deeper into His life, where I come to know more of who He is and more of who I am. In the time and space I dedicate to fixing my eyes on Him and being aware of His loving gaze upon me, I enter into the truth that He is my Heavenly Father and I am His beloved daughter, fully loved, known, and seen. How precious it has been to begin and end my days “Know[ing] that the Lord is God. It is He that has made us, and we are His; we are His people and the sheep of His pasture” (Ps 100:3).
In the Office I also connect with myself as it makes space for me to be more attentive to my inner life and emotions and to articulate the depths of my heart, largely through praying the Psalms. On days when I am in pain, the Psalms express the cries of my heart to the Lord and my trust in Him. Other days, they connect and give voice to my deeper thoughts, feelings, and longings.
Finally, the Office connects me to the body of Christ. As the “we” and “us” language of the Office indicates, it can be prayed in community. Whether I pray in community or in solitude, I pray neither alone nor privately, for these words wonderfully remind me that I am part of a larger family, united in one body by the one Spirit. How profound and encouraging it is to be praying words that countless Christians throughout the ages have prayed, and to join in prayer with brothers and sisters all around the world today!
The prayers of intercession prompt me to turn my attention beyond myself towards the needs of others in the Church and the world. During my recovery, I was limited in what I could do for others physically or practically, but through the Office, I found that I could pray for them. I noticed a growing stirring to pray for others as the Spirit brought them to mind.
As I continue to practice the Daily Office, the Spirit of Christ is slowly shaping me as I receive the gifts of framing, words, and connection. Some days I find it a struggle, yet choose to do it, and
other days I let it go, but I am seeing the fruit of consistency over time. I enjoy and practice other ways of praying, but I am finding treasure in beginning with and returning to the Office.
The pandemic of this last year has brought much sorrow, uncertainty, disconnection, waiting, and disappointment to our individual and collective lives. Many of us and our families experienced additional difficulties and many other world events were deeply unsettling and troubling. In the inevitable messiness, chaos, and brokenness we face, the Daily Office provides a pathway and light through the darkness, suffering, injustice, and loss in our world.
The Office can be a sustaining, steadying, anchoring practice because it leads us into the presence of our triune God who remains present with us, faithful and good, bringing hope, and making all things new. He draws us into His divine life and purpose and strengthens us to live as His followers in our world, seeing through His eyes and knowing His heart. The Daily Office has been for me, as for so many disciples through the ages and around the world, a door into the transformation and the deeper life with Him He invites us to.
We encourage everyone to begin their own practice of keeping the Daily Offices. You can download our free guide at stpf.ca/prayer