Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Worth Doing Badly

Surfing the net yesterday, I found several blogs and websites that contained information for beginners on praying the Liturgy of the Hours. Which is wonderful. The more awareness of the Divine Office out there, the better.

One of them emphasized the importance scheduling time each day for whichever of the hours one commits  to. And  of finding a quiet, peaceful location with some sort of small shrine--a candle with a statue or picture--in easy view. This is the way to pray one's  Office consistently. With recollection and reverence.

An ordered day and a quiet refuge for prayer. Good ideas. And yet...

This is clearly one of those both/and situations.  Praying in ordered peacefulness is good. Praying amidst slapdash chaos is also good.

I relish the times when I'm able to sit back in my favorite rocking chair, light a candle in front of an icon, near a window with a view of my rural paradise. And then, pray the entire sequence from start to finish, maybe following up by going back to a favorite verse  and thinking about it for a while longer.

If that scenario occurs once out of the five hours of the liturgical day that I (most days ) pray, I'm doing really well.

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.

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.

Kind of like marriage and family life in general. The rewards come in faithfulness, not in perfection.

Or, as G.K. Chesterton said, A thing that is really worth doing is worth doing badly.

How about you? Is it worth it to you to  prayerfully plow through the chaos or do you wait to find a moment of rest?


  1. Chesterton was right!
    Mike D.

  2. Amen to Chesterton!

    I struggle with Evening Prayer for similar reasons, though I do not take my breviary into the kitchen (because I am a MESSY cook. I wear an apron for a reason.) Before dinner prep seems too early; after dinner there's often stuff going on; many times Evening Prayer happens right before I go to bed--which I KNOW is time for Night Prayer but it's evening somewhere, right?
    Even this morning, my youngest was up early and he sat next to me and chattered away. I did the broken-record response, "I'm saying my prayers now" but he was pretty oblivious to that for quite a while. Thanks for the reminder that I don't have to beat myself up over my interrupted prayer.

  3. I definitely do it badly. Thanks for posting how difficult it is to do. I get up early to do the Office of the Readings (generally without a hitch...except the time when I was up with the baby). Morning Prayer (my favorite) is squeezed in before my first patient of the day, but only if traffic is good and I can get to work before then. I can get to Mass most days, but not before the noon hour, so I am left with potentially getting in the Daytime Prayer at 3pm...sometimes. Evening Prayer is my worst, but I can't day that I am really prayerful for the Night Prayer (as my examen is too short, but if I don't rush, I am asleep).
    One day I will do it well, but will struggle,,,

  4. See, I think all these efforts to fit the LOTH in between babies and talkative kids and patients etc. are just heroic! Maybe we merit more for this than monks whose lives are built around the liturgy and don't have to work at squeezing it in.

    Christopher, I think the examen at Night Prayer is supposed to be a brief one. That's what it says in the ordinary. I keep it brief by only thinking of the one main fault I'm supposed to be working on. Although when I'm really tired I skip the examen altogether and just go on with the rest of Night Prayer. Speaking of which, I'd better get busy with that right now.

  5. I just wanted to come back and say thank you for posting your description of your "badly done" evening prayer in the midst of chaos. I really needed that. 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.