Many prayer books are more obstacle than aid. The traditional breviary used in monasterieswas conceived, I believe, by someone with a penchant for fanning himselfwith page turnings and a love of colored ribbons. Just when you settledown to a page, you've got to mark your place with a ribbon, quickly turnto the back of the book, mark your place with another ribbon and thenquickly turn back again, all this in the quiet of a chapel at noon.

Phyllis Tickle's new breviary, "The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime,"(Doubleday, 646 pages ) is a welcome remedy for the increasing number of layChristians who have rediscovered the daily office. "Like most variationsand revisions of standard form," Tickle, author of "God-Talk in America," writes that the book was, "born out of contemporaryneed," and celebrates it own "welcome lack of ribbons." (Actually, my copy had precisely one.)

The practice of praying at fixed times throughout the day has its originsin Judaism. Early Christians continued the discipline and it was furtherreinforced by the Roman empire's forum bells, which tolled at 6 a.m.,midday, and 6 p.m. The Christian offices are said at morning, midday,early evening (vespers) and bedtime (compline).

Unlike breviaries that lump together prayers in the firsthundred pages, followed by psalms, and so on, Tickle puts each day'sprayers, psalms, readings and refrains-everything you need--in one place, beginning the Sunday nearest to June 1, andending with the Saturday nearest to September 28.

The rhythm that Tickle's book establishes gives one a stronger sense ofparticipating in an ancient, worldwide but very personal liturgy that wasfounded by the desert fathers in the third century .One group of monks,obeying the movement of the sun around the globe, would start theirprayers just as the monks to the east had ended theirs. Christians today,Tickle writes, are "filled with the conscious awareness that they arehanding their worship at its final 'Amen' on to other Christians in thenext time zone. Like relay runners passing a lighted torch, those who dothe work of fixed-hour prayer create thereby a continuous cascade ofpraise before the throne of God."

Praying regularly is something I aspire to, not something I do. But even aftera few days of regular prayer, my feet are more firmly on the ground. Give it afew more days, and I am likely to be less irritated with my neighbor'sdriving habits. Eventually I enter what I call the "economy ofabundance," the extravagant, loving company of God. Unfortunately, then I usually falter. Rumi, the 13th centurySufi poet, put it like this, Why is it that I have to be dragged kickingand screaming into paradise? Well, partly because prayer books are socomplicated. With Tickle's book, I have less of an excuse than ever.

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