In my blog last month, I included some thoughts about Liturgy of the Hours (LOH), the traditional prayer of Benedictine monastics. At its core is the praying of the psalms at regular times each day. In our monastery, we pray LOH most days in the morning, at noon and in the evening. We pray in a three-week cycle, which enables us to include all the psalms (apart from the more violent ones) at least once in that period.
I shared in that blog that I have had a volatile relationship with LOH. In other words, I’ve thought about it, reflected on it, and prayed about it, and my relationship with it has changed over the years. So, what does LOH mean to me in February 2023? This probably isn’t exactly what it will mean in February 2024 because I hope that my relationship will continue to grow and deepen in the years to come. But it’s where I am right now.
I am a person who is moved by tradition and history. I like to see myself in the context of a greater whole. LOH has been at the heart of the expression Benedictine life since St. Benedict wrote his Rule in the sixth century. To me, there is something holy and uplifting about seeing myself as a link in that chain of worship, consisting of thousands of monastics, stretching back in an unbroken line through all those centuries. It’s a very visual image of humankind maintaining an ideal of striving toward God in a particular way. It helps me to see and accept my smallness as an individual when I look at all the links in the chain, and my strength as a part of the whole.
The psalms themselves present me with both gift and challenge. The gift comes in the variety of different moods, feelings and reactions described. I once heard a comment about the composer Beethoven: “Whatever you are feeling, Beethoven has been there before you.” For me, the same is true of the psalmist. There is no aspect of human experience that is not covered, whether it’s longing for God, joy, sadness or anger. It comforts me to know that all the emotions I experience have been experienced by others throughout the ages, a sign of the bond of our common humanity. In praying the psalms, it’s possible to take all that makes me into who I am, good, bad, and indifferent, and lay it before God in the ancient monastic prayer of LOH.
Of course, I don’t necessarily agree with everything that’s said in the psalms but even my disagreement becomes a form of connecting with others. I learn that my reactions, beliefs, and feelings aren’t necessarily the only possible way of viewing things. Somebody, somewhere, does not see the world as I do, yet feels able to take that view to God in the prayer of the psalms. The psalms thus become a lesson about integrating difference and diversity into my psyche.
And when I pray the psalms at LOH, it’s distinctly not about me. As these ancient words fall from my lips, it is essential to remember that the intent of the prayer is for the whole world, for people everywhere who are hurt, angry and suffering, as well as those who are grateful, thankful and joyful in God. I try to do as Dom Marmion, a famous Benedictine author of the 20th century advises:
“Before beginning the Divine Office, let me cast a glance over the whole world:
for at this moment, we are the mouth of the whole church…”
Karen Rose, OSB
Photo: Our community praying during Liturgy of the Hours, taken by Sister Nancy Bauer