[UPDATE: The prayer below is actually from the third Sunday of Lent, not the second, which is today.  Somehow I got my place in the Proper of Seasons mixed up.  Doh!  I never lose my place like that!  And this time I did it publicly!  Oh well.  I suppose it “accidentally” happened because I really needed that prayer today.  :)]

Sometimes when praying the Divine Office (AKA Liturgy of the Hours), do you ever feel like the prayers are reaching up from the page and smacking you, or perhaps giving you a vigorous shaking?  Not in a mean, hurtful way, of course, but in a “HEY, wake up and pay attention!” way.

I had a couple of moments like that just this morning.  One was in the scripture reading from Nehemiah:

Today is holy to the Lord your God.  Do not be sad, and do not weep; for today is holy to our Lord.  Do not be saddened this day, for rejoicing in the Lord must be your strength!

I wouldn’t say that I’ve been sad, exactly.  But I haven’t exactly been rejoicing, either.  There are reasons for that which I don’t feel like divulging in detail.  But after I read that scripture, I tried to push myself beyond all that and to think about all the many reasons I have to rejoice in God.  Not least of which is His inexhaustible patience with me.  And you know what?  It did give me strength!

The flood gates opened when I was praying my personal intercessions… but they weren’t tears of sadness.  They were tears of gratitude, tears of relief, tears of joy… and tears of repentance too.  They came from knowing that I could just take everything within me and throw it all into God’s hands.  I could throw myself wholly and without hesitance into God’s arms. I could say, “Lord, I don’t think I can keep following on my own–please, I need You to carry me for a while.”

Another day and another step of progress in this year’s Lenten Lesson.

And then I arrived at the closing prayer, and the part that struck me was:

When we are discouraged by our weakness,
give us confidence in Your love.

Discouragement and confidence have been serious issues for me of late.  Yes, even confidence in God’s love, I hate to say.  But more so, confidence in myself.  And I’ve said before that my own weakness discourages me, that sometimes I get caught up in feeling as though I am supposed to be my own god.  That’s something I have not consciously realized until this Lent–and it’s surely the root at which the Lord, via the Lenten Lesson, is taking aim.

Blooming heather shrubAs a related aside, I have often been very fond of the image of God as a gardener who must sometimes hack away at roots that are invading and trying to strangle His beloved plants (you and me).   And that sometimes He must prune us of our own perverse outgrowths, rid us of diseased and dead limbs, and graft new, healthy ones in.  Sometimes He might have to uproot us altogether and replant us somewhere else.  All of which can be painful, distressing, and downright frightening for us plants, especially since we can’t always see the Gardener’s purpose.

I guess that image speaks to me because I’m named after a plant.  I often find it a little amazing that God should invest so much care in a wild common broom shrub like me.  But that’s God for ya!  He is the reason I bloom.

Something that strikes me every morning is the last stanza of the “Benedictus,” particularly the phrase:

the dawn from on high shall break upon us,
to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death

I think about our world, and especially my own beloved country, so frightfully dominated by the Culture of Death and becoming more so all the time.  Even though some of us have seen and known the light of that heavenly dawn, we still largely “dwell in darkness and the shadow of death,” inasmuch as we are completely surrounded by them, citizens of a nation permeated by them.  And we are surrounded by people who do not see or know–or worse, who deny and reject–the light of day, the Sun of Justice.  Praying that prayer every morning really makes one aware of where we stand in this world.  It’s easy to be tempted to look around and say, “Oh, everything is just fine and dandy.”  That’s living in denial.  And until the dawn from on high shines on our entire country, none of us is going to be completely free from dwelling in death’s dark shadow.  We have to see things as they are, and we have to take responsibility for it.  We have to work and pray and do everything we can to share and reflect the light that we have received.  We may or may not succeed… but we do have to try.  As the late Rep. Hyde said, we won’t be judged on whether we succeeded, but we will be judged on whether we tried.

And all of this is why praying the Divine Office is so very useful in the spiritual life!  I recommend giving a try if you haven’t.  eBreviary is a good resource for seeing what the prayers look like and getting acquainted with them; you can see all of the prayers for Sundays and Fridays; to get access to them every day requires a subscription.  They do offer free trials if you’d like to try it out for a few weeks (see under “additional subscription options”).  That is how I became familiar with the Divine Office.

I now use Christian Prayer, and there is also a Shorter Christian Prayer that simply gives the morning and evening prayer for the ordinary 4-week psalter–I would consider that perfectly adequate for basic devotional purposes.  There is also the excellent monthly publication, Magnificat which gives shorter morning and evening prayers, in addition to all Mass readings and other items.  You can send for a free sample issue.  My parish orders bulk subscriptions which give everyone a significant discount–you might ask your parish about that, or suggest that they consider doing that.

As with any family, the Church that prays together stays together!

(photo by WikiMedia user, Aqwis)