Burning Heart presents a Lauralee Farrer production

Posts tagged “Praying the Hours in Ordinary Life

Du, gestern Knabe, dem die Wirrnis kam

Yesterday you were a boy,
today blind passion makes your blood swell.

You do not mean to seek lust but joy;
you have been chosen as a groom
whose desire is only for his bride.

But the spirit of lust pulls at you,
even ordinary arms suggest nakedness.
Even pale cheeks on pious paintings
blush with strange appeal.
Desire twists like a snake,
rising to the beat of the tambourine.

Suddenly you are left alone
with hands that will betray you
unless your will delivers a miracle.
But news from God comes
rushing through dark alleys
into your heart.

Rainer Maria Rilke, The Book of Hours, I, 38
translation by Martina Nagel, illustration by Denise Louise Klitsie,
from Praying the Hours in Ordinary Life (Cascade Books, 2010)

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Ich Glaube an Alles Noch Nie Gesagte

I am drawn to the things that have never been said.
I am determined to release these godly feelings
and not hold back
what others do not dare to ask.

If that’s outrageous, my God, forgive.
All I am trying to say is this:
My very best offerings are spontaneous,
without hesitation or irritation,
in precisely the way children love You.

Like waters swell and ebb into the open sea,
I want to proclaim Your name, in mounting waves,
like no one has done before.

If that is audacious,
then let me be rude for the sake of my prayer,
which, sincere and solemn,
rises before Your veiled face.

—Rainer Maria Rilke,
The Book of Hours, I, 12

translation by Martina Nagel, illustration by Denise Louise Klitsie,
from Praying the Hours in Ordinary Life (Cascade Books, 2010)


TERCE: The Light Climbs, the Worker Pauses

I worship You
with primal joy,
Holy Spirit,
Living God.
—Terce refrain

The light of Terce is bright, a sharp spotlight on our work. We have found the rhythm of a focus that has snapped into place, and the last intuition we have is to stop. And yet. Benedict urged stopping at this hour precisely to say, this work is not my purpose. My purpose is to praise God. In fact, monks are encouraged to drop their work tools wherever they are, whatever they are doing, when the bell for Prime rings, to remember God’s presence, and to acknowledge, as Rabbi Abraham Heschel put it, “Just to be is a blessing. Just to live, is holy.”

This hour corresponds to the season beginning with Pentecost. Imagine how the disciples, knowing that Jesus had resurrected from the dead and given them a great commission, were charged with the seriousness and fervor of the task ahead. And yet they were required to wait. And wait. And wait. The Spirit finally descended on them at the third hour: the hour of Terce (Acts 2:15) the same hour, only a few months before, in which Jesus was crucified (Mark 15:25). “The man who can articulate the movements of his inner life . . . is able slowly and consistently to remove the obstacles that prevent the Spirit from entering,” counsels Henri Nouwen in his book The Wounded Healer. “He is able to create space for Him whose heart is greater than his, whose eyes see more than his and whose hand can heal more than his.” If the fire for work comes from our own bellies, we set in motion all things small: personal agendas, careers, professions that will prove inadequate at the end of our lives. As someone observed, no one ever regretted on his deathbed that he did not spend enough time at the office.

If the fire for our vocation comes from the Spirit, the result is miraculously fulfilling. We are taught that the secret to finding our lives is to lose them for the sake of the gospel (Matthew 10:39). Pentecost celebrates the miraculous arrival of the Holy Spirit, sent to give birth to the Church. The Spirit empowered Peter to share the story of the gospel with a crowd that had gathered because the ruckus of the Spirit’s descent called loudly for their attention. At first, they charged the disciples with drunkenness, because their giddy joy was so uncontainable. When Peter explained what had happened, three thousand people “were added to their number.” Three thousand, who became the Church. The spirit of Terce is one of solidarity, of empowering the community to work as one body for the kingdom—wherever we are in the world, alone or apart.

The Spirit that fell at Pentecost is the same spirit within which we live today. It is not something that we make room for in a corner of our hearts, like a piece of furniture. It is rather like stepping from a vacuum into open air. Terce marks a necessary stopping to call the Spirit down upon our work so that we may continue fueled not by calculation but by obedience, not by might but by the Spirit, not by duty but by joy. “He will yet fill your mouth with laughter,” Job assures us, “and your lips with shouts of joy” (8:21).

The personality of Terce is characterized by this joy, joy that is prompted by gratitude. Joy is alive—a vivacious, sweet, tender, and powerful woman walking alongside to whom one can, every morning, express thanks for God’s blessings. Though the Hour’s prayers are short, they are potent then, and they are merely a respite fromthe work that calls anew on the heels of those prayers. Artist Denise Klitsie says of the return to work: “the space in your head where you need to go in order to interact with the work is sacred. Allow yourself to say all the things in you to say. Go deep. Accept. Trust. Go into the images.” The work remaining to be done is the same as when we stopped to pray, but we are different when we return.

—by Lauralee Farrer
excerpt from Praying the Hours in Ordinary Life (Cascade Books, 2010),
illustrations by Denise Louise Klitsie


NONE: When the Shadows Lengthen

When daylight wanes
and shadows lengthen,
to forgive is to make whole.
—None refrain

How beautiful this dappled, soft hour of light, and yet heartbreaking. Grey at the temples, the hour of None is melancholy, a time to ponder things we thought would always be with us. The loss of our plans, our parents, our pains have eroded confidence in the ability to conquer time. There is not much light left to the day to work or read or see by, nor to the seasons of our lives. Mortality is undeniable, and even those who are most ambitious—or deepest in denial—must admit time is short before winter. A lonely hour, None is when monks pray alone in their cells for a holy death. We crave contact with something transcendent at this time of day precisely because temporal things are dissolving into shadow. None is the second most populated hour at coffee houses,whether for stimulant or company, it hardly matters.Though natural to reflect on loss, Teilhard de Chardin urges hopeful patience: “Only God could say what this new spirit gradually forming within you will be. Give our Lord the benefit of believing that His hand is leading you, and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself in suspense and incomplete.” Suspense is natural to this, the ninth hour, when even Jesus Christ cried out to God “why hast thou forsaken me?” Receiving no answer, He sighed, “it is finished,” and breathed His last. Perhaps the torpor common to this time of day is a soul-memory of that black hour marking the death of our Savior.

The None hour is an hour of sleepy prayer,when the light plays among the shadows it creates and we are haunted by old dreams. Poet Henry David Thoreau’s oft-quoted sentiments become our standard of judgment: “I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, To put to rout all that was not life and not, when I had come to die, discover that I had not lived.” This is the hour that tests determinations such as these, and the gentle challenge of None is not to give up, for there is time left. Now, at the hour when things that we have relied upon fail, first look to what endures: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). Trust is an important attribute of this hour.“Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!” the Psalmist urges (27:14).

For some, None brings temptations to anxiety, of turning inward to critique and mourn lost youth, or worse, to try to recapture it. But this is a season to turn one’s mind toward legacies with eternal value: “The first and most basic task of the Christian leader in the future,” says Henri Nouwen in The Wounded Healer, “will be to lead his people out of the land of confusion and into  the land of hope. Therefore, he must first have the courage to be an explorer of the new territory in himself, and to articulate his discoveries as a service to the inward generation.” So, the past may be transformed from failure into gift. South African leader Nelson Mandela, when asked upon his release from prison if he feared death, quoted William Shakespeare: “Cowards die many times before their deaths; the valiant never taste of death but once. Of all the wonders that I yet have heard, it seems to me most strange that men should fear; seeing that death—a necessary end—will come when it will come.” Embrace this, said Mandela, and you will “disappear under a cloud of glory.”

At this hour, we are urged to shift our thinking from what we have left unachieved to what we might yet leave behind, and to apply our energies to forgiveness and generosity. When the disciples criticized a woman who had lived a sinful life for pouring an expensive bottle of perfume on Jesus’ feet, He rebuked them with what is surely a strategy for facing eternity without fear: “For this reason I say to you her sins, which are many, have been forgiven, for she loved much” (Luke7:47 NAS). So then, in the day toward which we all journey, it may not be asked of us whether we sinned, but whether we loved.

—by Lauralee Farrer, illustrations by Denise Louise Klitsie
excerpted from Praying the Hours in Ordinary Life (Cascade Books, 2010)

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