About a year ago, I finished going through the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises in daily life, a journey that took approximately two years. One of the things I appreciated about the Exercises was their structure. The Exercises provide a framework for prayer that encourages attentiveness and openness. Plus, their structure helped with two real problems I have had with prayer: figuring out where to start and then staying focused during prayer (i.e. not “wandering off” somewhere in my mind).
After “making” (that’s the official parlance) the Exercises, I was looking for another resource that would provide a similar structure for prayer when I stumbled upon a Benedictine Breviary. The Short Breviary I have (check it out on amazon.ca) provides prayers, hymns, psalms, readings, and litanies for going through the Liturgy of the Hours. While the Breviary has a liturgy for all eight of the canonical hours, I typically pray in the mornings before work, so I usually only pray Lauds. Lauds is the divine office for the early morning hours and is one of the two major hours in the (Roman version of the) Liturgy of the Hours. I do, on occasion, pray Compline (the last prayer of the day) when I go to bed and I have found it to be a very comforting and calming practice, especially throughout the winter months.
Another thing I have benefited from in praying with Benedictine Daily Prayer: A Short Breviary is that it includes liturgies for the seasons of the church’s liturgical year. I had, for some time, been interested in gaining a better understanding of the traditional church calendar. Praying through the year with the Breviary has, I think, helped to more fully immerse me in the life of Jesus.
Using the Breviary takes some practice, especially during liturgical seasons other than Ordinary Time, since praying one of the major hours (like Lauds) means some “flipping” around through different sections of the book. However, with a bit of patience, and the judicious use of the Breviary’s multiple book marks, it soon becomes quite natural.
I sometimes combine praying Lauds (from the Breviary) with journalling, wherein I simply record any words or phrases from the liturgy that stand out to me. I find that writing these things down “grounds” me in the thing(s) that God wants to say to me in/through the prayer time. One of my recent favourites is from a litany for the season of Lent, in which we ask that “the fertility of silence give life and power to our words and deeds.”
I have found the Breviary to be one of Borgmann’s “focal things” and it has provided the kind of structure that, for me, makes prayer happen (when it so easily can not). If you give it a try, I would love to talk with you and share experiences of praying with a Breviary.