In the last three or so years I have been struck, through my reading of the most influential writers on Christian spiritual formation, by how many of them were committed to the “divine offices”. “Divine offices” refers to a rhythmical prayer life. These Christians prayed three times a day (in the monastic traditions even more often), but in so doing they didn’t just sit down to pray. Instead, they prayed “set” prayers and did so with a community committed to this form of praying.
This pattern of praying goes back to Judaism and the world of Jesus. Psalm 55:18 tells us that the psalmist complained and lamented three times a day, and we know this refers to “evening, morning, and midday” set times of prayer. Daniel 6:10 tells us that Daniel prayed three times and day. And Jesus was incensed with those who used “midday” prayers as an opportunity to demonstrate their piety by finding themselves, rather conveniently, at a public place at the hour of prayer. Acts 3:1 tells us that Peter and John went to the Temple at the “hour of prayer” (=midday prayers). And a first century document, called Didache, tells us that the early Christians prayed the Lord’s Prayer three times a day.
Now, the original Jewish practice included reciting the Shema (pronounced “sheMAH”) twice a day (morning and evening), and that at midday they may have said this same confession but also prayed a standard Jewish prayer of requests (called The Eighteen Benedictions). So, it is not hard for us to know that the early Christians used the “Lord’s Prayer” instead of the Eighteen Benedictions, or maybe some did both.
What struck me in reading the spiritual masters of the Christian tradition is that they carried on this ancient rhythm of praying.
So, my wife and I have adopted this practice and now say, as often as we can, the prayers that Phyllis Tickle has composed for us, in her book “The Divine Hours”. Her book combines the great prayer traditions of the Church and has become a source of comfort for us.
On top of this, we get the sense as we carry on this “sacred rhythm” that we are joined by millions throughout the world who pause, three times a day, to turn to God and orient their hearts and minds and affections toward God.