I grew up in the evangelical church that didn't use any kind of liturgy. In fact, we didn't even pray the "Our Father" because it was deemed as "rote" worship and therefore inauthentic. I remember attending a church once that used liturgy and feeling like if I prayed along to the printed words I was somehow doing something wrong. When I worked at an American Baptist church I was introduced to liturgy for the first time and saw how a properly crafted service could lead people deeper into worship. I was still somewhat skeptical of unison prayers. What if I didn't believe what was printed? What if I wasn't feeling joyful or mourning?
Growing up, prayer was considered incredibly important. We were supposed to "pray without ceasing". But as I grew older it seemed that people used prayer to get what they wanted. We prayed for parking spots and for sunny days on vacation. We also prayed for healing and if it didn't come we said it was "God's will" and if it did come we said it was a miracle and caused by prayer.
I began to distrust prayer. I stopped praying except for times of deep distress when my prayers were usually along the lines of "I'm desperate, I don't believe prayer works like this, but please help me anyway."
Lately I've been thinking a lot about the monastic life and what that means. I've been reading Kathleen Norris' "Cloister Walk" which is a meditation about time that she spent at a Benedictine monastery. She talks about praying the hours and how that has influenced her. I've thought for a while about praying the hours; what would that look like, how would it change me, is it even possible? A friend of mine is working on a prayerbook that has inclusive langauge and he sent me a copy and I've begun to attempt to pray the hours.
I have to admit that this first week I have failed more than I have succeeded. I get sidetracked, I forget to pray, my mind wanders when I do sit down to pray. I've been thinking about how hard it must be to be an observant Muslim in a country that doesn't value praying often. It must be so hard to find a place that meets the criteria, to be able to do all of the rituals surrounding prayer in the midst of day jobs.
At the same time, I have found myself enjoying the time I have spent in prayer. To pray on my lunch break helps me to refocus. It helps me to attempt compassion for the customers who drive me crazy. It helps to center me and calm me and to remind me of my purpose in the world. It's a good reminder in the midst of my day.
I also appreciate, now, having prayers written by others. To know that groups of people are praying the same things. To know that even if I am not joyful someone else is and to be reminded that even if I am not in mourning, someone else is. It's a way to connect people to one another.
So I think I'll continue trying to pray the hours. I know that I'll continue to mess up, but I feel like this is a practice that is worth the struggle.