anointing the hours
except for the centenarians among us, this is our first go-around with pandemics. and so, uncharted as it all is, little should surprise us. i stand somewhat surprised, though, that somehow — in the depths and folds of these blurry hours, where day upon day feels indistinct, where were it not for the winding of clocks on wednesdays, the old-lady shop on thursdays, the watering of plants on saturdays, i might never know what day is unfolding around me — i seem to have tumbled into an ancient, ancient practice. one rooted in the quiet turning of pages of glorious books. one rooted in prayer, in the sanctification of time, the anointing of hours.
it must be the little old monk in me.
i am utterly transfixed by the notion of the liturgy of the hours, the divine office (opus dei — the work of God), lauds, vespers, compline. morning prayer now begins my every day. morning prayer with candle burning beside me, casting its flickering light on skin-thin pages that turn with a crinkle as i slide the ribbons from section to section: invitatory, psalm, antiphon, collect, confession, thanksgiving.
the lexicon is almost as old as time. the notion of fixed-hour prayer, paying keen attention to the seasons of the day — the shifting of light and shadow — is a practice shared by all the great religions: buddhism, hinduism, islam, judaism, christianity.
the early christians borrowed it, of course, from the jews, who were commanded to pray the holiest prayer, the sh’ma, upon rising and retiring, and who stitched 100 blessings into the arc of the day, lifting the most quotidian of acts — washing hands, hearing thunder, beholding the bloom of the almond tree — into the realm of the holy. the psalms, written by the most brilliant hebrew poets, were read by jews — including jesus and his earliest disciples –as “encounters with God, as stimulating and nourishing a spiritual mystery,” according to william storey, a liturgical historian.
by the fourth century, in the early roman empire, bishops instituted morning and evening prayer in the early cathedrals. in the sixth century, along came st. benedict who wrote down “the rule,” and with it the trellis of prayer that infused the monastery, calling the monks to arise in the darkness, to walk under the cloak of stars to the oratory where the night vigil was sung, and through the day, when the great bell was rung, to drop their work in mid-act — be it the stirring of soup, or the tending of bees — and encounter the angels in the sung prayer of the psalms. (i love that benedict refers to any chiming clock as a “portable monastery,” and instructs that “every chiming hour is a reminder we stand in God’s presence.” i will now consider myself to be “winding the monastery” every wednesday and sunday morning.)
all these centuries later, little old me picked up on the notion about six weeks ago. (no one ever pinned me precocious.)
what i know is this: tiptoeing down the stairs in the dark, hoisting my 2,974-page leather-bound tome, striking a match, kindling a wick, bowing my head, breathing in silence, it grounds me, and infuses my day. even my dreams, some nights.
reciting the words, inscribed millennia ago, whispered by generations before me, from all corners of this wobbling globe, beginning with a daily confession of sins, bends me into a posture of humility that seems so necessary — so countercultural — in this awful, awful age of much too much bombast. i’m enchanted. i’m sometimes disturbed (the god of biblical vengeance is not one i know). i’m always, always quieted. set straight for the day. beginning my day in the recitations launches me into the holy work st. paul instructed: pray ceaselessly. make the work of your day, the quiet of your day, make it all living breathing prayer.
i’m not alone in my preoccupation. rilke and ts eliot, hildegard of bingen and kathleen norris, certainly thomas merton, all were drawn to the undulations of stillness and prayer.
brother david steindl-rast, in his glorious little book, music of silence, writes that monastic prayer is a tradition “that regards each hour of the day and night as having its own distinct message for us.” he implores: “make everything we do prayer.” hour by hour, from night watch’s invitation to “trust in the darkness,” to laud’s morning question — “whom can i make a little happier” in this gift of a new-born day? — brother david draws us into the certain knowing that hour upon hour begs our attention, invites sharper focus on divine intention.
it’s all the sacred practice of paying attention. beholding the beauty, the blessing of each anointed minute and hour. in the same way i’m gobsmacked by the shifting of seasons across the year, i am rapt by the seasons of light and shadow in a day, the invitation to be immersed in each hour’s offering.
i turn to that brilliant radiant rabbi whom i revere, abraham joshua heschl, for one last illumination here, one to carry through this whole blessed day:
he who has realized that the sun and stars and soul do not ramble in a vacuum will keep his heart in readiness for the hour when the world is entranced.
for things are not mute:
the stillness is full of demands, awaiting a soul to breathe in the mystery that all things exhale in their craving for communion.
out of the world comes the behest to instill into the air a rapturous song for God…
a few of the books i’ve been burrowing into, include these:
- a beautiful treasure of a book: Seven Sacred Pauses: Living Mindfully Through the Hours of the Day by Macrina Wiederkehr. (brilliantly recommended by jackie, a dear friend of the chair)
- Rainer Maria Rilke’s Book of Hours: Love Poems to God
- Thomas Merton: A Book of Hours…..
- David Steindl-Rast: Music of Silence
and, if you’d like to poke around online, and hear magnificent gregorian chant (a meditation for another day) try Brother David Steindl-Rast’s Angels of the Hour
how do you anoint the hours of your day?
beautiful and radiant friend of the chair, kerry, sent along this glorious magnificent brother david “gratefulness” video….it’s a gift, indeed….
i hope and pray you take a moment to click and to watch……
Oh, my gosh, I loved this so much! Thank you, Kerry & bam!
THAT was a blessing! Thanks for sharing the video and for the inspiration to bless the hours of each day, bam. I’m off to shop for a few books now 🙂 xoxoxo
oh, you and me and our itchy fingers for books…..i have not received one i’ve not loved.
What a benediction… Thank you for sharing! ❤
Your beautiful blog brought to mind a couple things: sitting bleary eyed and sweatshirt-hooded against the cold at New Melleray Abbey for Vigils (03:30) and hearing the first words the monks say after “the Great Silence” from Psalm 51:15, “Lord, open my lips that my mouth may declare your praise.” And the music of Dan Forrest which uses words from Hafiz, “Even after all this time, the sun never says to the earth, ‘you owe me’. Look what happens with a love like that. It lights the whole sky.” I will try to put the link to the Dan Forrest piece below. That piece (movement III) begins at the 21 minute mark, but the whole Lux is devastatingly beautiful.
It’s hard, when you’re a quiet, contemplative person, to feel as though you belong in this world, where — especially as an American, I think — society tells us it’s all about grabbing, climbing, acquiring. Your words remind us of the power of loving, of quiet, of prayer, of thankfulness. Bless you.
This music is beyond exquisite. I, too, listened with tears. Dan Forrest is a treasure….. Thank you for posting this, Nan. ❤ xxx
Just listened…what beauty, what healing, what a gift. Thank you for sharing. I will also pass it along!
bless you, my beautiful monk-hearted friend. some day, melleray…..for now i am building my monastery inside the walls of this old house. my “cloister walk” candles are arriving today. can’t wait to listen below. thank you for adding to the sensory layers here at the chair. everyone light a candle, and listen…..xoxox
weeping at the beauty……oh my……thank you and thank you……
Barbara, your Friday time with us annoints my week, if not my hours. Thank you for sharing your spiritual practice. ONE with you and all!
ah, bless your heart dear MJ. the interludes of my prayerful hours seem to carry me out into the garden, where birdsong is my chant, and the bloom (dripping with rain this afternoon) is the canticle…..
I’m covered in goosebumps, savoring the holy peace ushered in by your words, and then by the Gregorian chant vigils. Thank you for blessing my day, and many to come.
In return, may this blessing of God’s favor lift you and your family:
Cheers dear friend, Joannie
oh, joanie, first, to find you here…there is blessing beyond blessing. i picture you high in the rockies, finding this space, pulling up a chair, joining in the echoes of chant, and then, graciously, wholeheartedly, offering back the beautiful voices of the UK. the kingdom choir……all are playing now in the backdraft as i type…..thank you thank you……
i’ve been circling and bent in my garden, awaiting a call from my firstborn to tell me his law school exams are all completed, and he has crossed the finish line….i am full of tears this day, contemplating all the hours it took to make it to this moment. the rising voices you sent our way are the perfect hallelujah for this vigil i keep……
xoxox bless you abundantly, sweetheart……
Is that your Book of Hours or a museum treasure? Which one do you use?
The grateful day video of making an experience a prayer ~ for some time,
being fortunate to be within hearing range of a train passing from afar, I was
so blessed by the haunting sound of it’s repeated whistle that I
prayed, “Thank you, Jesus.” and have continued to do so when that rare,
nostalgic song fills our air, catching me at a moment when my ears and heart are able to count its blessings. You have really blessed today’s
ohhhh! i wish those were the pages i turned! those indeed are museum pieces, one from paris, one from the Met, and one called the regal book of hours…….mine is a simple Prayer Book Offices, recommended to me by a monk friend of mine……i certainly can see how these become collectibles. they beg for personal fingerprint among the common universal threads….
love your mention of the far off train whistle. for me it’s the far off sound of church bells, which i wish i heard more often than i do…..
I think I will read this beautiful post every day just to immerse myself in quiet contemplative peace…. Thank you, dear B….
I don’t believe I’ve ever told you that my sweet momma was a Benedictine Oblate. Her well-worn Rule of Benedict sat always at near at hand on her bedside table… xoxo
OH MY GOSH!!!! just ordered and received my copy of Rule of Benedict!!! goosebumps. i had never ever known that about your beautiful momma……and i am so so touched, in the uncanniest of ways……xoxox
speaking of anointing the hours, i am quietly marking this morning’s “virtual graduation” of my firstborn from Yale Law School with this beautiful beautiful blessing from the university chaplain….
Go with God, young and glorious Will…
So beautiful. And, truly, you have “held fast.” Congrats to Will and to all of you!!
Thank you, Nan, who prayed us through….
a blessed poem, born of the pandemic, from irish poet, john O’Donnell (as read by Billy Collins in an interview with Cheryl Strayed):
“When,” by John O’Donnell.
“And when this ends we will emerge, shyly and then all at once, dazed, long-haired as we embrace loved ones the shadow spared, and weep for those it gathered in its shroud. A kind of rapture, this longed-for laying on of hands, high cries as we nuzzle, leaning in to kiss, and whisper that now things will be different.
Although a time will come when we’ll forget the curve’s approaching wave, the hiss and sigh of ventilators, the crowded, makeshift morgues. A time when we may even miss the old-world arm’s-length courtesy, small kindnesses left on doorsteps, the drifting, idle days, and nights when we flung open all the windows to arias in the darkness, our voices reaching out, holding each other till this passes.”