I am delighted to share another beautiful submission for the Monk in the World guest post series from the community. Read on for Robert Walk’s wisdom on living as a monk in the world through praying the Hours:
One Monk’s Approach to the Office
My initial contact with the life of the monk occurred more then two decades ago when I visited the Benedictine monks of Weston Priory in Vermont. In a way that was hard to put into words I was deeply moved by the rhythm of their day — the daily office, work, rest, play, etc. In the late 1990’s I spent a week on personal retreat at the Priory during a time of personal, vocational, and faith crisis. Again I was deeply moved by the rituals and rhythms of Priory life. Shortly thereafter I made a career move within ministry, transitioning from being a pastor in an American Baptist church to becoming a chaplain in a continuing care retirement community where I continue to work today in the world of God’s aging people. It is a diverse community in regards to ethnicity, worldview and religious affiliation. Initially and presently I was faced with the issue of how to minister to a diverse community via pastoral care, spiritual formation, and sacramental ministries.
In the summer of 2011 I decided to begin an almost daily Keeping of the Hours/Community Prayer Time in the Chapel where I work. My intention was to provide a holy space where residents could gather in the chapel or, if because of a lack of mobility, remain in their apartment and participate through our in house cable channel. While I had heard of the Daily Office before, the concept was new to me. Was it a spin off of the television show, The Office, or did it have something to do with the work done in an office or study? Of course the Daily Office is, at its roots, the ancient tradition of hours of fixed prayer, reading from sacred texts, and reflection. So I started out trying different approaches to using this almost daily 11 am Keeping of the Hours, ultimately settling on using the Daily Lectionary from the Book of Common Prayer and supplementing the readings with silent and spoken prayers and written meditations from a variety of sources. In an attempt to be inclusive I varied the approach praying openly in the name of Christ on two of the days (recognizing my own and the facility’s Christian tradition roots) and on the other days purposely praying in the name of the Great Spirit, God, and often including readings from Jewish rabbis and authors and other world religions.
In keeping with the sixth monk in the world manifesto statement: “I commit to rhythms of rest and renewal through the regular practice of Sabbath and resist a culture of busyness that measures my worth by what I do,” I have introduced the community where I work to the almost daily practice of the ancient practice of the Daily Office. In particular I read three readings from the Daily Lectionary, one from the Hebrew Scriptures, and the Epistle and Gospel readings from the Christian New Testament. Doing so has challenged my own resistance to reading Scriptures that don’t inspire me, either because they are difficult to understand, provide little in the way of meaning for living in the present from my point of view, or violate my view of God. In order to lead the community in the readings I had to get myself in gear by becoming a more serious student of the sacred text of the Jewish and Christian scriptures. I’ve done that and do that by dipping into commentaries I trust, using meditations written by those I trust that focus on the readings, and by utilizing the ancient practice of “lectio divina,” a thoughtful, patient reading and response to the scriptures.
I use a modified form of “lectio divina.” I provide type written copies of the daily lectionary Bible readings for those in the group and I type in bold print one of the verses or a couple of verses that engage my thoughts or feelings, words that “shimmer” with meaning, beauty or even cause confusion. Following the verbal reading of the passage I provide personal commentary either from remarks prepared earlier or spontaneously as the spirit/Spirit moves me. Following are Scripture passages, one from the Book of Judges and the other from the Gospel of John followed by my meditations on those verses:
And Samson said,
‘With the jawbone of a donkey,
heaps upon heaps,
with the jawbone of a donkey
I have slain a thousand men.’
When he had finished speaking, he threw away the jawbone;
(From Judges Chapter 14)
This is a jaw dropping passage. It continues our encounter with
the violent conflicts that are described and portrayed in
the Book of Judges during an increasing period
of rebellion, conflict, and conquest. It brings into our
consciousness the reality that almost any object
can be used as a weapon for defensive purposes
or to inflict injury and death on others.
Recalling my childhood Sunday School years, Samson
was exalted for his strength and this miraculous
and “super hero” like slaying of so many.
As my life and faith have matured over the years, and
as we continue to see so many violent conflicts between
nations and individuals it remains past time to elevate non-violent
images from the Scriptures and from those past and present
who incarnate non-violence and meaningful, albeit difficult
communication, to deal with our differences. Yes,
our jaws drop at the reading of Samson’s escapades and upon viewing
or reading about some of the extrememly painful and violent
events of the day, but our jaws can also be used in the
service of communicating a deeper understanding of what
it means to strive for a deeper peace in the human community.
And then there are Jesus words as he tried to calm the fears of a royal official whose son lay deathly ill.
Jesus said to him, ‘Go; your son will live.’
(From the Gospel of John, chapter 4)
Our hunger for healing and health remain powerful in our lives.
Jesus reputation for caring and healing had attracted attention
and he was almost the “9-1-1” responder of his day.
What provides curiosity about this passage is that Jesus doesn’t
go to the place where the boy lay ill
He offers words of life, instructing the man to return
to his son and to go with the words “your son will live.”
Wonderful words of life was the title of a gospel hymn
that we often sang in the growing up years of my life.
I wonder what impact these words and this action had on the
father whose anxiety and worry was full blown?
The arsenal of healing resources in our day and age is abundant–
medicine, therapies of all sorts, surgery when necessary, transplants,
electronic devices, and yet the caring words and touch of humans from one
to another remain perhaps the most important resource for healing,
whether that healing is full blown or the ability to cope
with ongoing suffering and illness.
The use of the Daily Office as a resource for daily sabbath has been a challenge for me from the stand point of studious preparation, soulful contemplation, and the discipline to follow through with the practice. The reality that I’ve chosen to lead the Office in community with others has motivated me to meet the challenge. In addition, as I use supplemental non-Scriptural writings as a part of the Office, I have come to affirm that the “living Word”of the Great Spirit, God, constantly needs creative contemporary expression, thus adding to the corpus of “lectio divina.” As the life of the monk continues to take root in our growing Holy Disorder of Dancing Monks in the world, may our daily tasks be inspired by the sabbath practice of the Daily Office. The Lord be with you.
Some of the resources I use in leading the Daily Office:
- Let Us Bless the Lord…Meditations on the Daily Office, authored by Episcopalian clergyperson, the Rev. Barbara Cawthorne Crafton.
- A Book of Wonders: Daily Reflections for Awakened Living by Father Edward Hays
Life’s Daily Blessings: Inspiring Reflections on Gratitude and Joy for Every Day, Based on Jewish Wisdom by Rabbi Kerry M. Olitzky
The Book of Common Prayer
Robert Walk is a Chaplain at Simpson House Continuing Care Retirement Community (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA) and a proud/joyful member of the Holy Disorder of Dancing Monks.