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.
Step Two: Add a Scripture Reading
With the daily rounds of psalm-praying every morning and evening in place, it is time to start reading the Bible too. The Evangelical mentality may balk at this order – why not start with bible-readings and then add prayers? This can be answered in a couple different ways:
- The Psalms are from the Bible, as is the Lord’s Prayer, so Step One was already completely biblical.
- Historically, most people didn’t learn to read, so Bible-reading was never really an option; instead they relied on what they could memorize – psalms to sing!
- The daily office is, first, a discipline of prayer. We need to focus on the prayer before we move on to include “study”.
So once your psalm-praying is consistently in place, it’s time to put in a Lesson (a reading from the Bible) between that Psalm and the Lord’s Prayer. Since you’re working toward the daily office tradition, you should start with a part of the Daily Office Lectionary. Pick one reading “track” for Morning Prayer and one for Evening Prayer and stick to them. It’d be best to make sure that one is Old Testament and the other is New Testament. Eventually you’ll be reading from both the OT and the NT in both morning and evening, but you’re pacing yourself. Get used to one reading first. Depending upon your background and experience you may find some of our Lessons (especially from the Old Testament) to be rather longer than you’re used to.
You may be tempted, as you read, to look up what individual words mean, or who individual people are, or whatnot. Resist such interruptions. Finish the reading, round it off with the Lord’s Prayer to complete the Office, and then go look things up if you need to. The Daily Office is not a Bible Study, it’s a time of devotion and prayer; the reading of Scripture in the Office is not (historically) followed up by an expository sermon, preaching usually lands in a different liturgical context. Rather, these scripture lessons are first for exposure and second for familiarity. If you endeavor to study everything you read, from the very start of your devotional-reading journey, then you may get lost in the details and end up swamped and discouraged. Receive what you understand and pass along by what you don’t understand. It may be that you will find the answer to your question in the next chapter, or in another part of the Bible. Honestly it takes a couple read-throughs of the Bible to begin to develop a memorable sense of its scope and contents, so it isn’t fair to put too much pressure on yourself too soon.
It’s only step two and you’ve already got an identifiable “Office of Prayer” in place: pray a psalm, read a scripture lesson, and close with the Lord’s Prayer. In a sense, everything that follows from here is an expansion upon this basic kernel.