Thursday, October 25, 2007

Time and Prayer

A couple of months ago, I wrote about prayer as a process by which the believer comes to know the Lord. In this month’s column, I would like to discuss the importance of time in the life of prayer. Time, the passing of minutes into hours, and hours into days, has, historically, had two significant roles in our communing with the Lord, both of which deserve some discussion.

The first role of time concerns how it punctuates the day. In the earliest times, Christians would gather together at least twice a day, at sunrise and sunset, in order to praise God in psalms, readings and songs. This tradition has been maintained in Anglican churches by the recitation of the Daily Offices. Later, as the monastic movements developed in the fifth centuries, these times of prayer expanded to mark the passage of the entire day. Two offices (Lauds and Vespers) expanded to include a night office and seven other times of prayers evenly distributed throughout the day. Interestingly the earliest times of prayer were based on the passage of the sun through the sky. However, as civilization became more technologically advanced, the clock replaced the sun as the timepiece of prayer and it is now more common to think of morning prayer as occuring at 6:30 rather than as at “sunup”.

The point to this is pretty simple. Since its foundations, Christians have found it necessary to hinge their prayer lives on the passage of time. So it should be with us, too. I am not saying that every Christian should dedicate the forty minutes or so daily that it takes to recite the day’s offices, but I am suggesting that the prayer life of the individual believer should be grounded in a period of prayer in the morning and in the evening. The 1928 BCP makes accomodation for this by providing forms for family prayer at the back of the book. A good start to a prayer life is a commitment to recite these prayers out loud on a daily basis.

The second role of time concerns a word that I used in the last paragraph: Committment.
A life of prayer cannot succeed without the Christian’s commitment to devote the time necessary to actually pray. Remember, the ultimate purpose of prayer is draw closer to God, to deepen our relationship with Him. This is not something that can happen without time being given to the task. Think of it this way. In our culture, a man and a woman do not simply out of the blue decide to get married. Instead, the courtship process takes time to develop, people need time to get to know each other. Similarly, after marriage, a couple must spend time with each other in order to continue to cultivate the relationship that they built in courtship.

As it is in marriage, so it is with our relationship with God. We begin by making a commitment to pray once a day, twice a day, and we stick to it. No matter how dry the time seems, no matter how unfruitful the prayer seems. There is no substitute in the spiritual life for “sticktoitiveness.” As we proceed in the coming months to discuss prayer “forms,” let’s first make a commitment to pray regularly, let’s make a commitment to show to God the same interest, the same love, that He has shown to us.


Anonymous said...

Father Jones,
Archbishop Fulton J Sheen devoted his entire life as a priest to encouraging others to set aside a "quiet hour" each day to pray and to be silent in the presence of God. He often was asked to speak at retreats for non RC clergy. His message was the same. "You are the one's that must lead by example," he would say. Years later many of those that had attended his talks would report to Bishop Sheen that they had be doing what he had suggested, some for more than 25 years.
My favorite quote of his regarding prayer is, "There are millions and millions of favors in heaven, hanging by silken chords, and prayer is the sword that cuts them." Good advice for us all.
God Bless,
John Snyder

The Rev. Robert T. Jones IV, Psy.D. said...

Dear John,

You rascal! You must have known that any comment referring to the late Archbishop Sheen would get my attention!!

Seriosuly, thanks for your comment. One of the most moving moments for me when I was in seminary was being given tape recordings of a retreat for priests that Abp Sheen gave for priests in DC. In those talks he said that priests could not be successful in their ministry unless their lives were grounded in a love of our Eucharistic Lord and His most Blessed Mother. Now, almost 30 years after I heard those words, I am more convinced of their truth than ever.

Thanks, my friend, for reminding me of Sheen's timeless advice.

God's blessings to you always.