To live in Christ is to pray, is to become prayer. Fragments of our lives are thus gathered, offered, and transformed into bread for others, into Eucharist, into the Kingdom of God. Like the turning of a kaleidescope, prayer draws our bits and pieces into pattern.
Praying the hours is a practice almost as old as Christianity itself. An expansion on the Jewish practice of morning and evening prayers, it is meant to knit awareness of God throughout the moments and seasons of our lives, to "permeate our entire being and through us to leaven, to spread light and savor throughout our world."
Medieval artists created lavishly illuminated Books of Hours. Their luscious illustrations, rendered in costly pigments and precious gold leaf, created proper settings for the life-giving psalms and prayers they contained. And they gave added depth, dimension, and richness to the words.
Patricia Colling Egan has done the same in A Book of Hours: Meditations on the Traditional Christian Hours of Prayer. Except, instead of pigments and gold leaf, she uses story, poetry, and lyrical illustrations to make the hours resonate with depth and vitality. I was captivated from the first page.
Each chapter treats an individual hour. With richly evocative language and images drawn from nature and from the Church calendar, Egan draws us in. I offer you a taste in the hope that you will be compelled to read the rest for yourself. Today, Matins and Lauds. Tomorrow, the rest.
Matins (Orthros): Matins is the longing...the expectation...of Advent. A season of "singing in the dark." It is also "the wonder, beauty and order" of Creation. Daily wresting Cosmos from Chaos.
As with Cosmic Creation, our personal beginning occurs (and recurs) with the Spirit breathing over chaos...Once we say, "It is He who has made us and not we ourselves," we begin to run along the path to freedom.
Finally, Matins is the hour in which we "sing the darkness toward the light." The psalms are the hymnal of the hours. Of Psalm 1 we read:
Praying the Psalm illumines us. We begin to see by its light until the light is within us. And we join generation on generation of Jews and Christians before us praying the same psalm in other times and other places, finding our way through darknesses in their company.
Lauds (Praises): In lauds we encounter the theme of Incarnation. One of the symbols used in this exploration is water.
Now the entire cosmos is bathed in the luminescence of Christ...Because God, through His Word, has taken on flesh...we who have died with Him in baptism rise from the waters endowed with a capacity for divine life in Him. Water, our basic element, has itself been "soaked" in Christ and, through it, so have we. Our response is Lauds, praise, prayer...
Another symbol is the icon.
Just as cosmos orders chaos, the icon brings order and peace to our senses. Standing reverently before an icon, allowing it to inform us, we respond to its gaze. We slip into wordless prayer, allowing the Kingdom of God to penetrate beneath the shallow surface of our lives.
To be continued......