Do your own prayers bore even you? More often than I care to be honest about, I’ve noticed what absolutely lame and inane prayers I offer up to God, finding myself babbling who-knows-what with my head and heart miles away.
It feels like my prayers mostly swim in the shallow end of the God pool. I’m learning that using words and prayers not my own is entering the deep end. God becomes bigger than my own limited experience of him; I share in something so much richer and deeper that I might never have known if I stuck to only my own emotions and experience of God.
One of the unique, and oftentimes unsettling, features of praying a daily office is that you pray mostly with the words of someone else. Scripture is given; prayers are written. In the prayer book I wrote and compiled, Seeking God’s Face, I’ve used the words of the church’s confessions and creeds to shape the prayers. While there is some room for free prayer, most of the words are already provided.
Which means you enter into a deep, big community experience of God. Praying the office is really a unique community experience where you join a chorus of voices praying to God. But there’s something in us that often reacts to this way of praying, thinking it can only lead to mindless ritual. But think again for a moment. Could it be that we today are slaves to self-expression? Could it be that we’ve idolized personal originality and expression and cannot fathom the deep offense of denying the world and God of our original personality? Don’t we need to find the room to give full and honest expression to all that is true of me? Well, maybe, but then prayer really becomes all about me then, doesn’t it. So who is prayer for anyway?
The wisdom of practicing praying the daily office is that it weans us off of this narcissistic spirituality and focuses us squarely on God. Robert Benson, a fine writer who has written about praying the daily office, notes: “There is something to be said for listening to something other than our own sweet selves, something to be said for having to find and be found by God inside the words of prayer and worship that have been offered up by God’s own for centuries.” (In Constant Prayer).
Imagine the beauty of this – when you pray the daily office, you’re part of a wide community of people enjoying God together. Even though you might be praying on your own, you’re never alone. By saying the same words you’re sharing in a long and wide community that’s loving God together, swimming in a deeper experience of God than you could’ve found by yourself.