When I was 14 I gave up swearing for Lent. And I actually broke the habit entirely for a few months. But that summer I got a job working in a hot, humid greenhouse with a bunch of crabby old ladies who smoked and swore all day long. I’m glad to report that the smoking didn’t rub off on me. I tried giving up swearing again for Lent the next year, but after a few days I decided that it didn’t really count as giving something up if you just kept doing it anyways. So I switched to chocolate. Which is just as well. I happen to love swearing and consider it a valuable life skill. (Recently I left a comment on a blog explaining why I have no problem being a swearing Christian and the first person who responded told me that I should take a logic class before deigning to speak again. He signed his name with his degrees behind it. It was quite amusing all around.)
So anyways, I no longer give things up for Lent, but I do often try to pick up a specific Christian discipline for the season. Now, I know that some of you come from church backgrounds where Christian discipline involves spiritual abuse and lots of meetings with the pastor. Rest assured, that’s not the sort of Christian discipline I’m talking about. Rather, Christian disciplines are simply specific practices which one engages in with the intent of deepening your faith life. It could be fasting, praying the Jesus prayer, engaging a spiritual director, using the book of common prayer, meditation or walking a prayer labyrinth to name just a few examples.
This year I’m going to be doing morning and evening offices through the season of lent – and I’d like to invite you to join me. For those of you who aren’t familiar, Daily offices or Divine hours as they are also known come out of monastic communities which structure their day around prayer services which take place at set hours each day. The practice is said to date back to the Apostles and comes out of the Jewish practice of saying prayers at set times. (For example, in the Book of Acts, Peter and John visit the temple for afternoon prayers. – Acts 3:1) Aside from monastic communities, the practice of “keeping the hours” as it’s sometimes called, is often associated with high church Episcopalians. But any Christian can use/do them. In case you were wondering.
Basically an office is a prayer service which includes prayers, readings from the psalms, scripture, maybe a meditation and a hymn. Some communities use the same prayers each day while changing the scripture readings each day. Others use different prayers or cycle through a set of prayers over the course of a week or month. If this all sounds confusing – it’s not. Unless you’re the poor soul charged with actually putting these services together. For those of us who are simply showing up to join in, it’s very easy. So easy, in fact, that you don’t even have to leave your house. Hell, you don’t even have to get off the computer! There are a variety of places which put up the day’s readings and prayers online. You can just read along at your own pace in your own time. Some even include audio files if you would like to listen or recite them out loud along with a prayer leader.
Of course, this may all sound a wee bit high churchy for some folks. And perhaps you’re wondering why you ought to do such a thing. Well, let me give you three reasons: