Good writing, with a strong point and with life oozing out.

My Portable Office

August 3, 2008

This morning at church, my friends led us on a look at The Daily Office (aka. The Divine Hours, Liturgy of the Hours, et al), a Christian practice that centers on praying through the Psalms at several times throughout the day. I don’t think I’ve ever understood how empire, Constantine, the monastic movement, and the divine hours fit together. It was especially enlightening to see how the point of the hours is not the elevation of prayer, but the elevation of the rest of the day– our tasks and work that can become worship, too. We learned that the prayer comes ‘between the words,’ in the space where we carry out our lives. It was an invitation into a set of practices which I’ve been wanting to try for awhile, and about which I’ve been feeling guilty for my lack of action. Today, the folks leading really opened up a door to the Daily Office, letting a lot of light and air into what has been a stuffy place of obligation and guilt for me.

Of course, it’s not like the morning was all theory– they led us through a typical Morning Prayer as a group, and invited us to chant a Psalm as a form of worship. Which was a challenge for me, a person who gets overly focused on words and details. So even as I tried my best to speak the words of the Psalm and to listen to the space between them, I couldn’t help but be distracted as I opened up the Psalm where we started the day, Psalm 19.

The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.

Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they display knowledge.

There is no speech or language
where their voice is not heard.

Their voice goes out into all the earth,
their words to the ends of the world.

Most translations read just this way: that creation announces the inescapable message of God’s existence and activity. But the Bible I picked up today followed the Septuagint (Greek version of the Hebrew Bible) and the Vulgate (the Latin version) in reading that last verse quite differently:

The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.

Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they display knowledge.

They have no speech, they use no words;
no sound is heard from them.

Yet their voice goes out into all the earth,
their words to the ends of the world.

Once I got past my tendency to deliberate over which translation is ‘right’ and recognized the intention and perspective of both learned groups of translators, I saw the insight of the day writ large. God’s great pronouncement is actually a respectfully silent one. God’s creation bears an inaudible witness, but one that can be perceived (and also ignored). Likewise, as we cooperate with God, our quiet efforts might never garner much attention, but they bear the same witness, and might do the same work.

And with deep respect to the ancient poet, I took my own middling crack at what I saw in the silence this morning:

Your voice is in the silence
Your voice is the silence

The space between the words
The rest between the notes

The stillness between the tasks
Of my day, in your world

Day after day, diapers and books call to me
Night after night, dishes and toys move my hands

Weeds and tools and lists
Words, spoken and written

May my words
Resonate with the silent voice

May my hands
Match the invisible movement of yours

Posted in:

4 Responses to “My Portable Office”

  1. Mike Croghan says:

    This makes me happy. :-)

    Thanks, Mike.

    (And P.S., the use of this Psalm, as well as the use of the lesson from Mark’s Gospel that dovetailed so well with the history lesson about Constantine and the origins of Christian monasticism, were both simply what was specified by the prayer book and lectionary – not hand-picked by us amateurs. Kinda neat.)

  2. kate says:

    Thanks from here, too, Mike! I was quite bummed to have missed this service. I appreciate the thoughts and the recap.

  3. Greta says:

    Flippin’ beautiful. That prayer’s going on the wall above the sink. You’re in league with Eckhart now, boy.

  4. Moff says:

    This is awesome… you so so SO get the point of the Office, and not only get it but are owning it. I really appreciate your posting on this since I missed the service.

Leave a Reply