Divine Office, Done Badly

Recently Daria of the Coffee and Canticles blog had a lovely post titled Worth Doing Badly in which she responds to a promoter of the Liturgy of the hours who stressed the importance of praying on a schedule, finding a quiet time and place for contemplation. Daria says, yes, that is the ideal but suggests that there is a danger in making the perfect the enemy of the good enough. I love what she says about praying the liturgy of the hours in less than ideal circumstances :

And when I think back to the years of homeschooling/raising seven children and just trying to remember to do Morning and Evening Prayer…if I had imagined back then that a monastic schedule and a place of peace were required, I would have given up a long time ago.  And maybe wouldn’t be doing it today.

Daria goes on to describe her own less than perfect prayer sessions:

Even now, Evening Prayer is likely to be read in the midst of fixing dinner. A pslam here, check the recipe there, another psalm, flip the pork chops, pour that child a drink before he spills it all over the counter, shoo the cat off the counter, do the reading while peeling the carrots, find the Magnificat antiphon, answer the phone, go find the Magnificat antiphon again, no, go find the breviary which has gone missing—there it is, a little one took it and is practicing writing the letter M on it’s pages, read the antiphon again, say the Magnificat from memory, call someone to set the table, escape for a moment to read the intercessions while the food simmers, yell at a child to put on your coat, it’s cold out there, and don’t go past the swing set because dinner is almost ready, pray the Our Father and concluding prayer. Take a deep breath. May the Lord bless us, protect us from every evil and bring us to everlasting life.

Yes, yes, I should do Evening Prayer after dinner. But no, we’re going out this evening so that won’t happen. Before dinner? It just doesn’t seem like Evening at 4:00 PM, and chances are, that’s when I’m tardily getting around to Daytime Prayer. (That “choose one” feature for mid-morn, midday, and midafternoon must have been designed by the Holy Spirit with me in mind.)

Now, I know the above dinner-prep Vespers sounds awful to some people. And no,its not the ideal way to do things. Some would say it’s better to skip it altogether than to pray it like that.

Problem is, if I skipped prayer every time the conditions for it were less than optimal, I’d be likely to lose the habit altogether. For me, consistency is important. Not consistency in schedule. Not consistency in a prayerful environment. But consistency in the daily slog of getting it done.

I love Daria’s description of her “badly done” evening prayer in the midst of chaos. I really needed to read it recently and I thought I’d pass it on to other mothers struggling to pray in the chaos of the trenches of motherhood.

Since reading it I’ve started trying to pray morning prayer while cooking breakfast on those days when I don’t get up before the kids instead of waiting to try to find a quiet time after breakfast that may or may not appear. It’s been a gift. I’ve allowed myself to pray daytime prayer while hiding in the bathroom and to pray evening prayer while brushing my teeth. Giving myself permission to stop looking for the quiet place but to just pray in the midst of the chaos was exactly what I needed right now as the quiet places in my day have seemed to dry up recently. It’s been like looking for a creek in Texas in August. There just isn’t anything there. I’ve been so frustrated.

Even though I’ve never held myself up to some sort of ideal of ordered peacefulness and have learned to pray with the kids climbing all over me, I guess I was still clinging to the notion that I should try to find time to sit down and devote my full attention. Letting go of that has really been a blessing.

Daria also has a follow-up post in which she adds:

My only followup is to make this suggestion to Melanie and all moms (and dads) who put down their breviary to attend to Life, only to see it sitting there several hours later and realize that one never got past the second psalm of the hour, and now it’s time for the next hours to be prayed.  Don’t try to go back and finish that earlier hour.  Imagine that your guardian angel finished it for you, since that is in fact what he did.  Your guardian angel, and the millions of believers all over the world. Sort of like when you get up at mass to take a child to the bathroom. You wouldn’t feel you had to go back and recite the prayers you’d missed to “catch up” to the others. No, because they prayed the mass for you. That’s called the communion of saints.

Oh what a lovely thought that is. And on that note, I suppose I should stop staring at the computer and go to bed.

6 Responses to Divine Office, Done Badly

  1. Bearing December 24, 2011 at 9:19 am #

    I love “People, Look East” too.  I think the reason I like it is that it is truly an Advent song, but it has the cadence, melody and spirit of a
    Christmas carol.  I classify it with “O Come Divine Messiah,” another “Advent carol.”

  2. Katherine December 24, 2011 at 11:58 am #

    I think that is one of those carols I’ve sung once a year and so it “rings a bell” but I don’t really know it. Now you’ve got me curious about it. Thanks for the beautiful reflection.

    I know exactly where you are coming from with 4 little ones. In the challenges, you have my sympathetic camaraderie. Likewise, I hope 2012 is a bit easier. smile

    Merry Christmas!!!

  3. Grace December 24, 2011 at 12:56 pm #

    “…those dirty floors are emblematic of both the state of my soul”…this caught my eye after my confession disaster last evening.  After a tiny date dinner, my husband and I headed over to our parish for our last chance at a Christmas confession…it was the last session being offered.  I was trying hard to be sorrowful in my confession explaining my busy-ness during the season and how I seem to be very distracted and not focused on living.  I find myself more in teaching mode since we homeschool rather than living the season of Advent.  Ugh!  All of a sudden my phone rang…I forgot to turn it off or at least silence the ringer.:(  In our rush and happiness of our date dinner, I just forgot that little detail.  The priest was distracted, I was distracted….I thought it was a confessional flop!  I thought that ringing phone was indicative of my distracted, constantly interrupted life of motherhood.  I was in tears after telling my husband about it and saying that the road to hell is paved with good intentions.  He hugged me so tight and told me, “That is what God wants to do with you…you little imperfect soul!”  Merry Christmas!  I’m sure God came to save all of us especially the mothers!

  4. scotch meg December 24, 2011 at 2:57 am #

    Melanie, sometimes that dying to self includes a very painful dying to our ideas about ourselves, a kind of vanity we can’t afford as mothers.  When I was first married, I had a friend who embodied everything I thought I would be as a mother.  Wrong.  I turned out to have much less energy, stick-to-it-ness, coping ability, etc.  It was humbling to realize that I was going to have to settle for being less than I had expected of myself.  Now, many years later, I am still not as competent as I’d like to be, but my children are turning out pretty well, and even their flaws are things I can’t take responsibility for in all instances.  And I still think much less of myself – in a good way – than I once did.

    Thank you for your blog, and merry Christmas!  Enjoy your children, as I will very much enjoy mine tomorrow, and may God bless your family.

  5. GeekLady December 25, 2011 at 12:49 pm #

    This is another of my favorites, and this year I resorted to your idea of taping the lyrics to my cupboard and finally got them memorized.

    …then I found out the hard way that our choir uses subtly different words.

    This isn’t a song that chokes me up though.  It’s encouraging in a way I can’t really describe, but a cup of coffee when I need it most comes closest.

    Merry Christmas to you and yours including your messy floors!

  6. nancyo January 8, 2012 at 9:57 am #

    This part, “The lesson of Advent this year and perhaps every year is exactly how much I need Him” stopped me in my tracks.  A good part of this year was devoted to God showing me this lesson.  And it is painful to learn (and re-learn!)  Thanks for this. 

    p.s. I have to tell you what a pleasure it is to use your captcha!

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