Praying the Divine Office
An age-old prayer tradition is finding new practitioners.
(RNS) It's been years since she worked full time, but SuzanneKurtz still keeps office hours. That would be the divine office or, asit's sometimes called, the liturgy of the hours.
Four times a day--morning, midday, evening, and just before shegoes to bed--the Lake Oswego, Ore., woman stops what she's doing, andprays. Not the quick "memo to God" that sometimes passes for prayer,or even a personal plea for help, but the majestic and measured lines of the psalms and the lustrous, burnished prose of the Book of CommonPrayer.
"The language is so beautiful," Kurtz says, opening her prayer bookto the previous night's last prayer. Slipping into a quiet, reverenttone, she reads: "Watch, O Lord, with those who wake, or watch, or weep tonight, and give Your angels and saints charge over those who sleep. Tend Your sick ones, O Lord Christ. Rest Your weary ones. Bless Your dying ones. Soothe Your suffering ones. Shield Your Joyous ones, and all for Your love's sake. Amen.'"
Kurtz is quiet for a minute. "That covers everybody," she says,closing the book in her lap.
Kurtz, 62, is one of a growing number of Christians reclaiming theancient practice of fixed-hour prayer. The practice is one she mostly pursues in solitude. For others, fixed prayer is something to be shared in community. Both settings have precedents in the history of the office, which has flourished for centuries within monastery walls but has endured outside them, too.
"These prayers dip you into a sacred world," says Kurtz, whosojourned in several denominations before settling in the EpiscopalChurch. "They connect you to a tradition of hundreds of years of peoplepraying these same words."
Christian fixed-hour prayer has its roots in Jewish tradition andRoman rule.
"We don't honestly know when Judaism had its fixed hours of prayer,"says Phyllis Tickle, an Episcopalian laywoman, 40-year veteran ofpraying the office, and editor of "The Divine Hours," a three-volumemanual designed to help laypeople adopt the practice.