For some time I've been wanting to write a reflection about the use of the book of hours, and a couple things I learned this week make this the ideal time to do so.
The keeping of the hours originally arose out of the Jewish tradition of praying at set times of the day. The first Christians, who were often Jews as well, naturally incorporated this practice into their prayer lives. For example, it is interesting to note that when Peter had the vision about eating the Gentile's food on the rooftop, he had gone there to observe the sixth hour prayers.
These regular prayers throughout the day developed in the Middle Ages into the complex and lengthy prayers used in the monasteries. These were modified and shortened for use by laity and eventually we have the form used by many today, consisting of four hours, or offices: morning, midday, vespers, and compline.
I have had the opportunity, since Advent, to use a book of hours which lays out these prayers in an easy format, allowing me to have beautiful prayers to assist me in prayer four times a day. I have learned much - perhaps I should say convicted of much - from these prayers. Firstly, the use of liturgy for prayer is something I'd like to discuss in further detail in a later post. More to the topic, I have found that despite the fact that each office only takes 5-10 minutes, it has been it surprisingly hard to stop whatever I'm doing and find a quiet place to pray. Even if I'm working on something by myself, it is easy to push it off. Why is this the case? If I love spending time with God, how can prayer possibly become a chore, a bother?
Donald Miller, in his book Blue Like Jazz (which I read this week), tells asking a man he saw serving each day how he did it - didn't he loose patience, cleaning up after everyone else? The man answered, wisely, "If we are not willing to wake up in the morning and die to our selves, perhaps we should ask ourselves whether or not we are really following Jesus." I confess that this really convicted me.
I realized that the biggest way I am unwilling to die to myself is with my time. Chris Rice, in his song "Life Means So Much", says "Time is our currency". In many ways, especially for us college students, I think this is so true. And it is something I cling to, thinking that it is something I own. As I wrote on Jan 25, time is wonderfully complex. But more importantly: unless I am willing to give it up to serve, I cannot truly follow Christ. I know I'll be leaning heavily on his grace and mercy as I seek change in this area of my life.
History taken from The Divine Hours, by Phyllis Tickle.
Picture: Book of Hours, Paris. Circa 1460-1465. Picture taken from http://www.library.usyd.edu.