I recently listened to a podcast by photographer and publisher, Brooks Jensen, on the importance of what he describes as “metronomic deadlines”. As a creative person, Brooks has benefitted greatly by always setting regularly recurring deadlines to produce artistic and written content aiming to, for example, produce a new podcast set to drop every Monday morning at 9:00AM or to create a new photographic essay to be published on the third Tuesday of each month. He argues that setting up a recurring and predictable cadence to your efforts helps spark creativity and produces a very helpful form of behavioral discipline. This is habit formation and good and healthy habits certainly benefit us greatly.
When I heard Brooks talk about these metronomic deadlines, I immediately thought about the Liturgy of the Hours, also known as the Divine Office. These are the Church’s official form of prayer and are considered, after the Mass itself, to be of prime importance for the faithful. Harkening back to the Jewish tradition of praying at fixed times throughout the day, members of the early Church continued the practice of focusing on scripture and specific intentions as a way of praying continuously. This is a form of metronomic deadline as the routine builds a healthy and productive habit over time for all those who pray in this way. Furthermore, those who are ordained in our Archdiocese make a promise to pray the Liturgy of the Hours on a daily basis.
The Liturgy of the Hours is heavy on the Psalms which, to me, are occasionally interesting, sometimes inspiring, and frequently unrelatable. There are passages in there about crushing enemies and escaping the foes who relentlessly pursue us along with other ancient scenarios that don’t always immediately connect for me. There is a short reading from scripture, some intercessions, a few other shorter prayers thrown in here and there, and then, depending on time of day, a longer prayer such as Mary’s Magnificat. If you’re racing, you can pray each installment in under five minutes. If you’re mindful of the words themselves and the sentiments they contain, in other words… if you’re actually praying… it can take 10 to 12 minutes.
But here’s the thing – for a very long time, I approached the Liturgy of the Hours as something that would benefit… me. I figured that the Church, in its great wisdom, has its priests and deacons making a promise to recite these prayers on a regular basis to fortify them, improve their spiritual health, and to inspire them onward in their work. When I believed this, I would receive an inquiry from someone asking whether they themselves should pray the Liturgy of the Hours and my recommendation was always noticeably lukewarm.
But then something happened. I began to see the value of the metronomic deadline and to experience the importance of having a set, predictable rhythm to my prayer life. Also – and this is the main point here – I started to see the Liturgy of the Hours less as something that would benefit me but rather as a prayer I could join in, with many others throughout the world, to benefit… others. I realized that this was less about what I was getting out of it but rather what I might contribute to it. When this became more apparent, I found it easier to incorporate this form of prayer into my routine. In fact, if I ever miss one of the main hours (morning or evening prayers) because… you know… “life happens”, I feel incomplete somehow.
Once this transformation began, it then extended into other areas as well, including our most sacred prayer of all, the Mass. I often hear from someone that “I got nothing out of it” when describing a Catholic Mass. Fair enough, but I’ll speak for myself here: when I began considering what I was bringing to the Mass, I started to get more out of the Mass. That’s the classic ironic twist of Christianity – when we focus outside of ourselves, we fortify ourselves.
Do you incorporate prayer into your daily routine? I’d like to ask you to consider the Liturgy of the Hours. In fact, I heartily recommend it! You can learn more at: DivineOffice.org.