By tradition, going back to early Christian times, the divine office
is devised so that the whole course of the day and night is made holy…
It is the very prayer which Christ Himself, together with His body,
addresses to the Father.
—The Encyclopedia of the Catholic Church
It has taken me quite awhile to write this book review.
Not because I didn’t enjoy this book.
Quite the opposite, I have great affection for this book.
I realize that in choosing this book to review, it was hard for me to lay aside
my own personal experience.
This review will be a bit different from my normal ones.
I will provide a description of In Constant Prayer by Robert Benson,
some favorite quotes and then finish with a bit of my personal journey.
In Constant Prayer by Robert Benson is the second installment in The Ancient Practices series.
Robert Benson begins the book by writing:
This book is about the most ancient practice of Christian prayer; a way of prayer known as the daily office.
It is known by other names as well–the liturgy of the hours, fixed-hour prayer, the divine office, the
canonical hours, the divine hours, daily prayer. Its roots are firmly planted in the early Church, and it
has become, in recent years, the focus of a great deal of interest among people who grew up in Christian
traditions in which such a way of prayer was not a part of their ongoing prayer life.
Robert Benson gives a historical look at the daily office and with the mastery of his poetic style he makes
the practice approachable.
The origins of this ancient prayer states:
“Seven times a day will I rise to praise your name.”
This statement alone may cause many to wonder how this is possible in light of our busy days.
Benson helps the reader understand that this type of prayer is not just for nuns and monks, it is meant for
everyone. It is meant to answer the cry to “pray without ceasing”.
The truth is that the divine office was never meant to be just for professionals, or to be prayed just by a few. It was meant to
be prayed by all the faithful, or at least it has been for six thousand years. It was meant to be part and parcel of our
individual piety and our common life of devotion. It was meant to be offered by all of us.
The daily office is a liturgy as well as an offering. Even though it is known also by the divine hours, it does not take
an hour to say. In fact, it takes considerably less time.
“In the simplest of terms,” Robert writes, “the daily office is a regular pattern and order for formal worship and prayer
that is offered to God at specific times throughout the course of the day.
Each set of prayers, known as an office, is made up of psalms, scriptures, and prayers.”
The book offers many different types of prayer books that are available.
In choosing one, this is his suggestion:
Here’s the golden rule for choosing which set of prayers you are going to say:
pick a set of prayers you like, and begin to pray them.
The particular version, the set of prayers you pray, is up to you. And how many offices–
seven or four or two–and which of the offices you will say–morning or noon or evening or night–
those choices are up to you as well. The One who has drawn you to begin will guide you as you go along.
How is that for making the sacred simple?
I believe reading this book will give you a hunger to experience prayer in a different way.
Not only will you learn about this ancient practice that needs to have a place in our contemporary lives
but you will be moved by Robert Benson’s experiences and humble offerings as a seeker of the King.
Need more convincing?
Please take the time to read this wonderful example of Robert Benson’s writing:
In a few weeks, the rakes we own will make their first appearance of the spring in our yard. It will not be too long before
the mulch will be delivered. Here we go again.
Sometime soon, I have to rake off all of the winter mulch, rake up all the leaves that have ended up in my yard over the
winter; turn over the dirt in all the flower beds, and reset some of the brick in the patio and the walkways that have been
dislodged by the winter rains. I have to prune the roses and trim the hedges and cut back the monkey grass, fix the gate
in the back fence, rest the hinges and the lock on the front gate, power-wash the porch, put a new screen in the doors to my
studio, edge the patio, put pine straw in the lower garden, and figure out a way to attach a rosebush to the house, the one that
is so big now it keeps falling over and blocking the front gate.
None of which I can actually do in a weekend. So I have some yard work to do, every day for weeks to come. And the truth is
that the yard is not going to look like much for some weeks to come yet.
There is a moment out there somewhere, though, a single afternoon or evening, when I will come around the corner,
and the roses will have begun to bloom or the light will fall just right on the fountain, or I will see the cardinal playing tag in the
hedges, and it will take my breath away.
The next day, of course, I will have to weed the flower beds or mow the little bit of lawn that I have not yet managed to eliminate.
Between now and the time we will put the garden to bed next winter, I figure I have about twelve moments of magic coming, and I
could miss some of them if I do not do the daily work it takes to make such moments possible. I also think it is worth every moment
of work for those six or eight or twelve moments of pleasure, whenever they come and whatever they turn out to be like when they
take my breath away.
I received a complimentary copy of In Constant Prayer from Thomas Nelson with the understanding that I would write an honest review.
Thank you Thomas Nelson for this opportunity.
(Please excuse the format woes of this post.)
Not to make this post any longer but it has already reached that point!
At that time, I was not sure if I knew what the daily office was and if I did, it was only for nuns.
She spoke with such glowing enthusiasm that I was blessed to be able to get my hands on a copy of Venite and my journey began.
It was during that time, that our family was coming out of a really rough season only to be thrust into another season. I had
no more prayers of my own. I felt like all my prayers were so focused on our circumstances and I was pretty exhausted and beat up by
life in general.
Enter the daily office.
I would imagine if you have ever just spent time praying through a psalm, it would feel the same.
Somehow saying the daily office was like a balm that I didn’t know that my soul needed.
It was the spot that I didn’t know needed to be itched.
It provided a bridge between the faith life of my growing years to my life of faith as a grown up.
I can’t say that I pray the office more than once or twice a day or even every day but I have learned that this is not the point.
The blessing is the repetition.
Although according to the day or time of day, the psalm and gospel portion will change, the structure stays intact.
The prayers that are offered in the midst of an office may be static or dynamic…the sins confessed may be new or besetting,
but the framework is familiar.
The Lord’s Prayer is constant and reassuring.
You know how in a needful instant, a memorized scripture will return to your consciousness?
The daily office has that same way.
Stress may arise, the mere utterance of the daily office brings such peace and comfort.
It simply helped me breath again.
It changed my life in so many ways.
Flashback to 3 years ago, I emailed Joanne to thank her for sharing about the daily office and Robert Benson.
(This was the beginning of many emails back and forth between us.)
Well, Joanne is a friend of Robert Benson and she encouraged me to write him.
So I did.
He wrote back a letter that resides in a box that contains cards, notes, letters that are meant to be cherished.
I do…it made me cry because I knew that he understood exactly what I was just finding out.
It was like he shared a secret not in a whisper but with a shout.
This is why the above book review was difficult.
I wanted to do justice to Robert Benson’s work and it reminded me of the blessing of my blog friend Joanne.
Please continue to pray for her.
God continues to do the miraculous in her but she needs stamina for all the work she is doing in rehab.
Pray for her husband Toben, her girls Audrey and Emma, who miss their mom being home among other things and for her parents and sister.
This has been a long journey for them that I am sure has taken every
ounce of strength.
Thanks for taking the time to read this endless post!