31 January 2007

What defines your day?

What defines your day? Everyone has some framework that forms that basic structure of how they think about the passage of the day. For many people, it is the time-clock as their day is defined by what time they get to work and what time they get to leave. For others it is some pleasure—the enjoyable pursuit they can’t wait to engage in—like a hobby, a movie, or exercise. Family can also define your day as the goal of how you structure your day is to get home as early as possible to spend time with family. Appetite can even be a framework of the day as you move from one meal to the next.

I was thinking about what defines my day as 2007 was drawing near and I was considering what targets I was going to set for the year (I personally prefer “target” over “resolution” as it is something out there that I keep shooting at—hit or miss. Resolution sounds like something internal that, once broken, has to be resolved all over again. Tom Harmon’s comments the other day definitely echoed this thought). I decided that I wanted to figure-out a way to frame my days more consciously, regularly, and meaningfully around my connection with God.

Like most Christians (a recent Barna study notes that “9% of Christians identified prayer as the most fulfilling spiritual activity they undertake” and only 4% listed “having a better prayer life” as “their top priority for spiritual change.”), I long for more quality and quantity in my prayer life. I’m not altogether sure what either of those terms, quality and quantity, means in this case. Jesus taught His followers a prayer that was awfully short (doesn’t meet my expectations for quantity), but a prayer whose essential request that we would show God as holy by doing His will and establishing His kingdom as it happens in heaven (a quality far surpassing the laundry list of things I typically want God to do when I pray). As I understand it, prayer at its most fundamental is coming into intimate union with God. And, as Christians pray together, they are also brought into communion with each other.

I’ve tried all kinds of things to improve my prayer. In groups, I’ve tried Wednesday night prayer gatherings, all-night prayer vigils, and small group prayer. Individually, I’ve tried scheduling prayer and praying for a certain amount of time. Online prayer sites have helped me to pray prayers that are bigger than my own thinking and practice. I’ve tried engaging in ongoing conversation with God throughout the day, letting this serve as seamless ongoing prayer in the midst of everything else. I’ve written my prayers in journals. Special places and postures that lead me to a greater sense of God’s presence (e.g. praying by a lake at sunrise while kneeling) are another avenue that I’ve tried. Praying Psalms and other scripture is also something that I’ve done. Each has been helpful in some regard for a time.

One of the things that I have not tried is something that the majority of Christians over the last two thousand years have done. It is something that was part of the spiritual life of the ancient Jews, appears to have been followed by Jesus Himself, and according to the Didache’s record of early Christian practice was adopted by His followers as well. I might as well give it a try.

It’s know by a lot of different term—the daily offices, the divine hours, the sacred rhythm. It can be three times a day or seven times a day. You can use the Book of Common Prayer (Anglican), the Liturgy of the Hours (Roman Catholic), A Manual of Easter Orthodox Prayer (Eastern Orthodox), something more recent like the Divine Hours (Non-Denominational), other prayer books, or pray your own spontaneous prayers. Regardless of the choices you make in these, each seeks to order one’s days around a framework of prayer embodied in the regular rhythm and priority of communion with God. Each serves to bring Christians together in common prayer simultaneously though physically apart. And, all guide Christians to hold fast to the essentials of our faith while helping us escape the limited confines of our own prayer patterns.

All of this is by way of introduction to my target. I’ve set about trying to pray at 9:00 am, 3:00 pm, and 9:00 pm each day. I’m struggling with this—particularly the 9:00 pm time which normally finds me distracted and tired in the middle of family stuff. But, the mere existence of that struggle three times a day is something that I’m pleased to have present as a reminder. I’m using the Celtic Daily Prayer Book which is the product of the Northumbria Community in northern England near Lindisfarne and is based on sixth- and seventh-century Celtic Christian writings. Each has their emphases and limitations, but also strengths and virtues--much like my own prayers.

I hope this post was a good introduction for those of you unfamiliar with the practice. It’s good accountability for me. Feel free to ask me how it’s going. I’ll update you as the year goes on. If this is all new to you, here's a brief history of fixed-hour prayer.

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