#16 Keeping Time
I have a truly terrible internal clock. This morning, I rolled over at 7:30 and went back to sleep for “a few minutes” until my boyfriend called to see if I wanted to meet for lunch at noon. I’m chronically late despite being almost-ready half an hour in advance. As someone so flummoxed by the basic concept of the sixty-minute hour, I am perhaps an unlikely enthusiast of the Liturgy of the Hours, but I am warming up to this classic Catholic devotion.
I had prayed the Liturgy of the Hours (aka the Divine Office) on retreats and attended the occasional vespers service at the Byzantine chapel on campus in the past; I even have a book of the Office that a friend passed along when he received a more detailed version. Yet the practice never stuck for me. Morning lauds and evening vespers are the most famous of the Hours, occurring at 6:00 am and pm, but I’m usually asleep for one and making dinner during the other. Rather than try to catch myself at a particular hour each day, or have to “catch up” if I accidentally missed one, I decided this week to give the Liturgy of the Hours another shot by stopping at least once a day to recite the Hour that most closely matched the current time. I just started a part-time teaching job at an Orthodox Jewish girls’ school, and I can pray none (3pm) while I walk there almost daily. I’ve adapted the melody of some other hymn (I can’t recall the original) for the words of the none hymn so that I can sing it to myself, and I find its imagery especially effective while walking outside. Here’s the hymn, followed by my very best free-association interpretation 🙂
Hymn for None
O strength and stay upholding all creation,
Who ever dost, thyself unmoved, abide
And day by day the light in due gradation
From hour to hour through all its changes guide:
Grant to life’s day a calm unclouded ending,
An eve untouched by shadows of decay,
The brightness of a holy death-day blending
With dawning glories of the eternal day.
Hear us, O Father, gracious and forgiving,
Hear us, O Christ, the co-eternal Word,
Who, with the Holy Spirit, by all things living
Now and to endless ages are adored.
The first verse calls to my mind those time-lapse videos that show the progression of hours and days over a span of minutes; I’ve always wondered how God prefers to view time and scale, and somehow I feel that the beauty of those time-lapse views gives us an inkling of how God sees time from eternity. The beautiful, orderly picture of nature and nature’s God illuminated by the hymn is very reassuring to me in the midst of uncertainty.
The second verse moves from describing the natural day to the day of one’s life. Rarely do I consider praying for a holy death-day in my personal intentions, but it is common in traditional prayers, including the Hail Mary and the Byzantine liturgy. I wonder, was this was a more frequent concern of the earliest Christians because of the threat of martyrdom or the markedly lower life expectancy in that era? Perhaps it is a natural human thought, but our own sense of security in modern middle America or our culture’s tendency to paper over the reality of death make us blind to it? Either way, I suppose that on that day I’ll need all the prayers I can get, so it makes sense. I also love the symmetry between the lengthening shadows and frequent threat of storms in the afternoon and the prayers for a calm, clear twilight to our lives.
The final verse, in traditional style, grounds the praise and petition of the hymn thus far in adoration of the Trinity, the highest form of prayer. Altogether, the hymn, psalms, and readings of none grant me a spate of peace and reflection in my day before dealing with the hysterics of teenage girls forced to participate in the intrinsic evils of algebra.
Participating in the worldwide Christian devotion of the Liturgy of the Hours has helped me get in touch with the rhythm of the day. Right now, keeping time with God is a fresh experience for me that feels anything but routine.
Interested in the Liturgy of the Hours? I’d recommend a smartphone app (I use Laudate) or a website to keep on track.