Nothing Better to Do than Pray

Nothing Better to Do than Pray

We are continuing a blog series on the Daily Office, asking Restoration members how they learned to pray the Daily Office and how it shapes their relationship with God. Hopefully, it is inspiration for those who are new to Anglicanism and an encouragement to all of us to grow in a habit of prayer. This week’s post is from long-time Restoration member Kate Rayburn who is frequently found on Sunday mornings providing accompanying vocals during worship.

My first introduction to the Daily Office was Hayden’s Te Deum. “Te, te Deum laudámus. Te, te Dominum confitémur.” Those powerful words. That opening melody. An alto part that was fun to sing and not 11 minutes of E-flat and E with the occasional D-sharp to keep us on our toes like the other sacred choral work I was singing that semester. If only I had any idea what the words meant.

After some slogging in the library, I determined a translation as well as a host of other information about this traditional Catholic prayer sung during Matins which was one of the morning services in the Liturgy of the Hours. It was all very academic. After all, I’d only sung and heard pieces like this and the Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis in a concert setting, never as part of worship. It seemed the only people who would use them for worship were Catholic monks and nuns who had nothing better to do than pray, not “normal” people. Years passed and during a very hard and dry portion of my life I encountered two books. 

The first book was Company of Voices: Daily Prayer and the People of God by George Guiver which was given to me by the priest of an Anglican church where I was attending a ladies’ Bible study. He was cleaning out his library and thought that with my love of church history and Comparative Christianity I would find it interesting. As I was not yet Anglican, I had not considered that the fixed-hour prayer practice could be something for me to undertake. This book reshaped my thinking to where I was willing to give it a try as brute forcing and intellectualizing my faith was not working for me any more. But how do I do it? I felt like I had hit my spiritual wall because my previous discipleship instructions had been, “Have a Quiet Time every day,” as a child and I was just making it up as went along since then. And the Book of Common Prayer was incredibly confusing to me at the time, and I certainly didn’t want to get it wrong because I thought that’s how I was in this mess to begin with. 

Enter the second book, The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle, that I found wandering around Half-Price one day. It lays out each day’s prayers, pulls from different prayer books for the various collects, as well as provides simple instructions. I could just open it, find the date and pray. And it was weird. I was reading prayers and parts of Scripture and wasn’t pulling out commentaries and dictionaries. I was saying words I’d only sung before, like the Te Deum, “We praise you, O God. We acclaim you as Lord.” and the Nunc Dimittis, “Lord, now let your servant depart in peace.” and they meant much more as they were tied into the rhythm of the day and the context within the prayers. And as I settled into this weirdness, my walls fell and I could find joy and peace again. 

These days the Prayer Book isn’t as confusing, and I enjoy the more communal nature of the Daily Office provided by The Trinity Mission or from the ACNA Book of Common Prayer (2019) that I can pull up on my phone or computer. But I will add collects from other prayer books, Anglican and not, on occasion for many people have written prayers that answer the cry of my heart when I know not how or what to pray. While I try to pray the full Office each day, my consistency waxes and wanes with the seasons. I find Advent and Lent I am reinvigorated and will often pray all four Offices each day. Christmas and Epiphany, on a good day I will pray two. And while greater consistency is a goal, there is no need to catch-up as tomorrow I will join back in the stream of ceaseless prayer. I do pray Mid-Day Prayer almost every day as it takes less than 5 minutes and is far more consistent in content than either Morning or Evening Prayer. I can easily pull it up on my phone and sing it while preparing lunch or washing dishes or any of a hundred other tasks. And it re-centers me. Wherever my morning has taken me, I can put the focus back on God and serving Him. 

I’d love to say that praying the Daily Office has shaped my relationship with God by giving me greater strength and courage to share the Gospel, but it hasn’t. I’d love to say that it has fixed all my doubts and fears, but it hasn’t. Because who wouldn’t love a simple solution to being made in the image of Christ! Instead, I’ve been molded in two distinct ways. Firstly, I have come to the freedom of worshiping with my whole self – body, soul and mind. The Daily Office allows me to get out of my own head and just worship. Physical actions of worship such as kneeling or making the sign of the Cross which were uncomfortable in their strangeness due to my background have now become familiar and longed-for and I need them or I run the risk of over-intellectualizing my faith. When I can, I try to sing the Office. Sometimes it’s chant or a worship song for the Psalms, sometimes I ask Alexa to play one of my favorite classical versions, but often it’s just a random tune I improvise because I am hearing the words and physically feeling them so I cannot as simply brush them aside to where I might mentally encounter them. Secondly, I’ve been shaped by the overwhelming reminder that it’s not all about me. I did not imagine that that was something I would struggle with, but my sheer stubbornness and background of individualistic faith expression have me retracing the same steps again. And it is the repetition of those steps that aligns me so that I can finally hear what is being said over my own inner voice. I am praying the same prayers and participating in the same general practices of faith my foremothers and forefathers in Christ have for centuries and will for centuries to come. I did not choose these readings – they are not on my “favorite parts of the Bible” list.  I don’t want to pray for peace today, but it’s Tuesday and so I will and hopefully come to trust in God’s defense. I am anchored and have a touchstone through the Daily Office. And through these two methods I am molded in the image of Christ.

For I have nothing better to do than pray.