Most prayer books sitting in the pew rack have a section of pages that are somewhat dirty. You see them from the side while the book is closed. They are darkened and protruding out a bit. Open to those pages and you will usually discover the Eucharist, handled week in and week out as the faithful gather to encounter God in word and sacrament. They are a little crinkled and discolored. Sometimes you find a rip or a dog-ear. Miniscule amounts of oil, sweat, and dirt rub off of fingers as people hold the pages, slowing darkening the paper with time. The binding ever so slightly weakens with each page turn, pulling the pages out from the spine and eventually creating that classic protrusion. These pages are worn with prayer.
My father’s personal prayer book has a set of pages that are even dirtier than I usually see in the pews. Communion is worn, too, of course, but not quite as richly discolored by his thumbs holding the prayer book open for Morning Prayer every day. I find those pages so beautiful and holy. They are sacramental: an outward and visible sign of my father’s deep and abiding faith.
As a child, my dad sat on the couch and prayed Morning Prayer before we rose. He never made us do it with him or even invited us to do it, but every once in a while, when I would get up early enough, I would catch a glimpse of him praying. It was a silent testimony to his faith. During a particularly difficult time in college that also coincided with a lot of questions about faith, I remembered his prayer routine and decided to try and do that. It seemed to work for him. Would it for me? I picked up a prayer book and started figuring out how to pray Morning and Evening Prayer. Once I figured the system out, and started praying them daily, I soon discovered the spiritual richness of the Daily Office. Day in and day, I too starting making those pages dirty.
Today, we remember Saint Benedict. For Episcopalians, he is important ancestor to our way of embodying the faith. As Esther de Waal, one of the greatest scholars and practitioners of Benedictine spirituality says, “It is hardly too much to claim that the Benedictine spirit is at the root of the Anglican way of prayer” (Seeking God: The Way of St. Benedict). Cranmer took Benedict’s eight daily services and condensed them into two: Matins and Evensong or Morning and Evening Prayer. Cranmer intended these two services to mark our days with Eucharist marking our week.
Saint Benedict’s approach to spirituality emphasizes the dailiness of faith. It is an approach to faith marked by the consistent rhythm of prayer and work. Day in and day out. It is a holy rhythm, living our lives and marking time by regular interruptions to pray. Through this rhythm, you discover that both work and prayer are holy. Singing the Magnificat is holy as is doing your homework. The canticles are holy, yet so is the morning commute to the office. Reciting the General Thanksgiving and changing a diaper are both holy moments to encounter God. The daily recitations of prayers, psalms, and scripture keep everything in focus. The Daily Office helps us to see God in our daily lives. Benedict taught us that even in the mundane and boring stuff of everyday existence, God is there.
Parenthood often feels like treading water. Dreams I had of the amazing things I was going to do with my kids have mostly gone by the wayside. They have been lost in the everyday tasks. And that includes many of my great ideas for their religious education. I cannot fit it in, let alone plan and prepare for it. The dailiness of life is full enough. Saint Benedict reminds me that the dailiness of life is also simply enough. I do not need to do amazing things with my kids. I just need to be with them in the routines of life — even the boring and mundane moments — and see the ways that God is always there with us.
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