Each morning, somewhere around six o’clock, I climb into my deep chair and begin to speak the words of Morning Prayer. I have been doing this, in some form, for most of my life, first as a young Jewish girl, reading the prayers for a new day from a small white siddur, or Jewish prayerbook, later, as a young woman, praying the office from the Book of Common Prayer. The words have become a kind of home for me; wherever I happen to be living, those words and that time recall me to myself. They allow me to inhabit my being.
In the last year, I have become drawn to the office hymns of the early church: simple chants written to be prayed at certain times of day. They are notably modest in what they ask, simple, grounded in the reality of human fragility. Listen to this one:
Now that the daylight fills the sky, We lift our hearts to God on high, That he, in all we do or say, Would keep us free from harm this day; Our hearts and lips may he restrain; Keep us from causing others pain, That we may see and serve his Son, And grow in love for everyone. From evil may he guard our eyes, Our ears from empty praise and lies; From selfishness our hearts release, That we may serve and know his peace; That we, when this new day is gone, And night in turn is drawing on, With conscience free from sin and blame, May praise and bless his holy name. (6th Century)
What do you notice in these words? Do you hear their modesty, the degree to which they are centered in love? For this author, the most necessary prayer is that we do no harm to anyone else. He does not pray that he may be spared pain, or trial, or difficulty, only that he may not bring those things upon any other person. He prays not for an easy life, but for a clear conscience, for the grace to know that he has acted only from love.
This is not an uncomplicated prayer. The desires of others are often importunate; they can desire things that would do them harm. But I like to think that being immersed in this vision, before the day breaks, may prepare me to meet those demands with a more gracious spirit.
For what do you pray in the morning? For yourself, for others, for God? How do you root yourself in love?