So you’ve heard about the Daily Office, specifically the Anglican tradition of daily prayer and scripture reading, and you want to enter into this beautiful and formative tradition? Great, grab a prayer book and go! Except, maybe someone already said that and you don’t know where to start… or worse, you did try it and it was just too much? The length of the Office was overwhelming and the contents too complicated to navigate when you’ve got no experience with liturgy. We understand, we’ve all been at that place before! Some just don’t remember it as well as others.
Diving into the full Prayer Book life of worship doesn’t work for everyone; sometimes you have to work your way up toward that discipline, adding one piece at a time as you grow comfortable with each feature and learn how to “do” them all. This post series is basically a twelve-step program to help you advance in the life of disciplined prayer from zero to super-Anglican. The pace is up to you – the goal of this sort of spiritual discipline is consistency, not “how much” you do.
Step One: Pray a Psalm followed by the Lord’s Prayer.
Every morning and evening do two things: pray one Psalm (or perhaps part of one, if it’s really long), and follow it up with the Lord’s Prayer. If you’ve been a Christian for a while, you’ve probably memorized the latter, but if you haven’t, use it in the 2019 Prayer Book on page 21. The Lord’s Prayer was taught by Jesus (hence the name the Lord’s prayer), and is a pretty straight-forward thing to pray. There is much about it that can be studied deeply, analyzing its words and structure, just like any other biblical text, but it’s also just readily understandable and easy to pray as your own prayer.
What may be more challenging is praying the psalms. While this is a basic spiritual practice going back thousands of years, it is a tragically lost art for many (if not most) Protestant Christians today. People “know” that the psalms are song-prayers, but actually praying them is a foreign concept. If we are to be faithful to the Scriptures, though, we must pray the psalms, rather than simply read or study them. They were written to be prayed, individually and corporately, so failure to do so is failure to receive the authoritative scriptures in their fullness.
So how does one learn to pray the psalms?
- Read the Psalm(s) out loud.
- Once you’re used to the content of the Psalm(s) in question, imagine you and Jesus are reading them together.
- Imagine you and Jesus are reading them together to God the Father.
- Imagine you and Jesus and the entire Church are reading them together to God the Father.
The key realizations that will click over time (not necessarily in this order) are:
- that sometimes the content of the psalm will give voice to the cry of your own heart and sometimes it will not
- that there are many “voices” in the Psalms, and if it isn’t yours personally it may be those of Jesus, or of the Church, or of the martyrs, etc.
- that the psalms are incredibly influential in the writing of many other prayers, collects, suffrages, litanies, and so forth.
Perhaps even your own extemporaneous prayers will start to use psalm-like language; but remember the goal is not memorization. If some of that happens along the way, that’s awesome. But the goal is to be familiar with the psalms so they can work through your heart as you read them, not just process their information like in a bible study.
As for which psalms to pray, it may be best to start out with following the “60 Day Psalter” provided in our Daily Office Lectionary on pages 738-763. For sake of getting used to this practice, I’d recommend you invest in using the Prayer Book’s psalter, but we’ll revisit that subject later.
So if you’re learning the Daily Office from scratch, start by praying a Psalm (out loud!) every morning and evening, followed by the Lord’s Prayer. Then, if you have other requests or thanksgivings to offer to God, add them in your own words.
It may take a while to get used to praying the psalms, so make sure you’re comfortable with this before moving on to Step Two.