One Christian devotional practice I’ve never really got the hang of is that of meditation: in other words, concentrated devotional contemplation of God, his works and his word. I don’t have that kind of mindset: my brain can hold its attention on such things for about fifteen seconds before it goes flitting off on some distraction or other.
In the light of that, reading George Guiver’s book Company of Voices has provided a personal insight into why I’ve found the daily offices so helpful over the past ten years. Guiver (p.112) quotes the Orthodox writer George Florovsky on the contrast between meditation and liturgical worship:
Orthodoxy makes little or no use of that form of spiritual recollection known in the west as “meditation”, when a period of time is set aside each day for systematic thought upon some chosen theme. Its place is taken in the Orthodox Church by corporate liturgical worship.
In the church’s liturgy (whether in the east or the west), we hear “the same necessary and saving truths continually underlined”, so that “the theological significance of the different mysteries of the faith is indelibly impressed upon [our minds], becoming almost second nature”.
Hence, for those of us who struggle with interior meditation, the daily office provides a structure within which the “mysteries of the faith” are held before our minds each day. Indeed, that is the earlier practice: only in the later middle ages did interior prayer and meditation come to be privileged (in the west) over liturgical prayer.
Guiver argues that “the great spiritual masters of personal prayer always upheld the importance of seeing the connection between private and liturgical prayer”, but in popular perception this link became “too attenuated”, and indeed the direction was reversed:
… so that personal experience was necessary in order to validate liturgy, instead of liturgy providing the ground for personal religion.
This is another area where I have been grateful for the insights of the Lutheran church. In the past, I saw my personal “quiet times” during the week as the engine-room for my Christian life, from which my weekly participation in public worship would then draw its energy and “validity”. After all, I didn’t want to be one of those “Sunday-only” Christians, did I?
Now I see it as precisely the reverse: it is the gifts we receive from God in the Divine Service that are the source of our life in Christ, and individual daily devotion then draws on those gifts and that life to sustain us during the week.
Note: Great minds think alike, and so it seems do mine and Michael Spencer’s. Michael has written a great post over on Internet Monk on how the liturgy of the church – and he specifically cites Celebrating Common Prayer in the comments – has liberated him from the guilt-inducing “models of Olympic prayer” as practised by evangelical “prayer warriors”. “I’m the guy who is really glad the Lord’s Prayer is short”, he writes, and he’s not the only one.