“How is your prayer life?”
This simple question is often times the first question a spiritual director asks because developing and maintaining our prayer life each and every day is critical for our spiritual health. No other discipline is more important to our spiritual life than an active prayer life.
The challenge many of us have is deciding what constitutes our daily prayer life? Today, with the COVID 19 pandemic canceling our public worship services we struggle to maintain our spiritual life. Our lives are busy, especially if we are now home-schooling children; taking time to pray each day is easily put aside for more seemingly urgent tasks. Secondly, we don’t always know what form that daily prayer should take. There are many options and we can’t decide how to begin. It is no different than establishing a regular exercise program; we all know how important that is to our physical health but getting to the gym or regularly exercising at home takes a lot of discipline. But, like a physical exercise regiment, having a prayer framework or prayer program makes it easier to follow and stay on track.
The spiritual challenges we face today are the same challenges people of faith have faced for thousands of years. Even before Christianity was established our Jewish brothers and sisters knew the importance of daily prayer and they set aside time each day to pray and praise God. What and how did they pray? They prayed the Psalms.
Within the Psalms, every aspect of our daily lives – our joys, our sorrows; our struggles and our triumphs; our seeking God’s plan for us and finding His presence in our life are expressed. The Psalms are many and varied just as our emotions, our lives and our struggles are varied. Jesus prayed the Psalms when he was tempted in the desert and even on the cross. When life is the most challenging, we can find solace in praying the Psalms.
But there are 150 Psalms and you may find it hard to find one that you want to pray. One of the best ways to learn to pray the Psalms is using a most ancient prayer of the Church, The Liturgy of the Hours. The Liturgy was developed by the early Christians as an extension of their existing Jewish practice of praying multiple times throughout the day and so the Liturgy of the Hours is divided into 7 different prayers for 7 times throughout the day:
Office of the Readings (known in Latin as matins)
Morning Prayer (lauds)
Sext (prayer at mid-day)
None (prayer in mid-afternoon)
Evening Prayer (vespers)
Night Prayer (compline)
Each time of prayer takes about 10-15 minutes but praying seven times throughout the day may be overwhelming. That’s OK; you don’t live in a monastery. Maybe choose to start by praying morning or evening prayer. You can find online apps that provide the prayer for every hour each day. I use Laudate but there is also iBreviary and many others. If you like a more traditional format, the Liturgy is published in a 4-volume set (complete breviary) and a more limited version in the Christian Prayer book.
The Liturgy does not just repeat itself over and over every day. The Liturgy has cycles that mirror the normal rhythmic cycles of our lives. All of the prayer times except for Night Prayer follow a four-week cycle much like our calendar months. Every Psalm is prayed at least once during this four-week cycle of days so you’ll become familiar with all 150 Psalms. Night Prayer uses a seven-day cycle, much like our week. I find the rhythm of the liturgy very appealing because it is patterned after the cycles we live day in and day out – days, weeks and months.
Praying the Liturgy of the Hours has been a great means for me to develop a regular prayer life and to maintain that life even when times are hectic and our schedules get crazy. It may take you a little time to get accustomed to its practice but what disciplinary exercise doesn’t require you to ‘just do it’ in the beginning to help form the habit.
Written by: Deacon Jeff Perkins
How to Pray the Liturgy of the Hours