My previous post on daily offices was partly sparked by a fascinating book I’m currently reading: Company of Voices: Daily Prayer and the People of God, by George Guiver, a member of the Community of the Resurrection (an Anglo-Catholic order based in Mirfield, West Yorkshire).
It was probably inevitable I’d enjoy this one: it’s a history book, it’s a book about the daily office, it’s a very attractive volume, and it has nice short chapters. The first part of the book (“Prayer and Human Nature”) looks at how structured, daily, liturgical prayer meets a wide variety of spiritual needs and reflects the nature of the church as one body. This is followed by sections looking at the historical development of the offices in the eastern and western churches and at the content of the offices, and a concluding section looking to the current and future role of the daily office in the life of the church. There are also at least 60 pages of source materials, notes and indices.
One helpful perspective on the value of daily prayer, and liturgical daily prayer in particular, comes from the opening chapter, where Guiver refers to Peter Berger’s book A Rumour of Angels. In this book, Berger argues that a major risk for anthropologists is that of “going native”: of losing the scientifically vital sense of detachment from the communities they are studying.
According to Berger, the best way to guard against this is for the anthropologist to maintain regular communication with others who are outside the community being studied, “and best of all by going home from the field after a relatively brief period of time”. Guiver continues:
The Christian’s situation is similar. If our Christianity is not to be a travesty of the real thing, we need rituals capable of maintaining living links with our home base, which is God himself. These we find in the Christian traditions of prayer and liturgy.
This daily turning to God in prayer should not be neglected in favour of seeking God “in the world”, important though that may be:
[I]t is as much a denial of the doctrine of the incarnation to opt too much for this world as it is to opt too much for the other … How are we to recognize the Lord in daily life if we have not first sought him “neat” in the direct encounter of prayer? We may as well expect a tracker-dog to trace a burglar without having first sniffed a piece of his clothing.
Berger’s “anthropologist” analogy also provides an insight into the fraught question of how “relevant” our corporate worship should be. If the liturgy is a place where we “go home from the field” in order to avoid becoming conformed entirely to the surrounding culture, then we should expect it to feel somewhat “alien” to us. The liturgy has always had this alien and countercultural quality: as Conrad Gempf once put it, it’s not as if “ordinary people on the street stopped going around in robes and chanting responsively on buses sometime in the 1980s”.
The encroachment of pop music, casual clothes (“JCUK” t-shirts, forsooth) and Powerpoint screens into our services tend to reduce the difference between worship and the surrounding culture to a minimum. Indeed, that is precisely what they are intended to do, in order (it is claimed) to make worship more “accessible” to outsiders. But the negative side of this is that corporate worship loses that quality of being a “home from home” for believers.