This week, an article I wrote- Praying When Words are Hard to Come by– was published by The Well. Several friends commented asking for more information about the written prayer I described in the article. In response, I thought I would highlight Celtic Daily Prayer, and written prayer as a whole, as the discipline of the week.
What exactly is Celtic Daily Prayer?
Celtic Daily Prayer is a book of prayers developed by the Northumbria Community, a group of Christians in North East England. Forming in the 1980s, the Northumbria Community wanted to be different than typical Christian communes. Rather than remain all together in one place, they scattered and spread across the world, seeking to integrate their faith in a modern context.
The community’s commitment to daily prayer is perhaps their most recognizable trait. Their Daily Office consists of three prayers- morning, midday, and evening. It also includes daily devotional readings and complines (bedtime prayers). One fact I find interesting is that the community encourages one another to memorize the afternoon prayer so that it can be said while working. I love recalling the words of the midday prayer while doing the dishes or eating my lunch at work.
Why pray written prayers?
Simple Answer No. 1. Using written prayers gives an order to my day and a direction to my worship.
I need structure to make the most of my time with God. I also love that the prayers are based on Scripture- rich and filled with meaning. Even though the prayers are the same everyday, over time certain words tend to stick out and cause me to pause:
To whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life…
All things are passing, God never changeth…
Have courage and wait, wait for the Lord.
If you get nervous about too much structure, Celtic Daily Prayer provides time during the morning and evening prayers to craft your own prayers. I enjoy the balance of both structure and freedom, praying words from Scripture and the saints as well spontaneous prayers for myself and for others.
Simple answer No. 2: Sometimes, I don’t know where/how to begin.
Then I get discouraged and wind up not praying at all. Then I start thinking that God is mad at me. Then I avoid God because I feel ashamed. The very thing I long for- connection with God- seems like a pipe dream.
If you get caught up in the same chain of thoughts as me, remind yourself of some important truths. God’s love is unconditional and unchanging. God doesn’t love us less if we forget to pray and he doesn’t love us more if we pray all the time. His love is perfect and consistent. The Bible reminds us:
For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. – Romans 8:38-39
Read this over and over again. Nothing, including anything we do or don’t do, can separate us from God’s love for us.
With that being said, Celtic Daily Prayer provides me with a starting place to pray. I don’t have to summon extra strength or intellect. All I do is open up the book and read, trusting that God is with me.
Often, I’m tempted to see prayer as a performance for God. Maybe if I pray this way, I’ll get what I want. Maybe if I say these certain words, God will think I have it all together. But the truth is, prayer is not a performance that we use to curry God’s favor. Rather, God uses prayer to build intimacy and trust with Him. Prayer is a place of transformation, renewal, hope, honesty and healing. Praying written prayers forces me to let go of trying to control God. I place the control rightfully in God’s hands to meet me how he desires.
Where do I start?
Like any discipline, you have to start at a level you can handle. For example, when I first started running, I didn’t start with a marathon. I started slowly, alternating running and walking for weeks until I could run 30 minutes without stopping. Don’t try to do too much to soon. If you do, you will probably get discouraged and quit. Celtic Daily Prayer is currently my favorite form of written prayer because it is short and challenges me to pause just three times each day. I can spend as little as 10 minutes or as long as 30 on the morning and evening prayers. The afternoon prayer takes about 5 minutes.
Set reasonable expectations; think about what you and your schedule can handle. If you miss a prayer or two, don’t beat yourself up. There are days when I only say the midday prayer- sometimes for good reasons and sometimes because I just forget. Don’t let shame or guilt stop you from trying new spiritual practices.
You can say written prayers on your own, or better yet, read them with friends or family. This is a great way to establish spiritual rhythms with your spouse, kids, roommates or community of friends.
Written Prayer Resources
The Divine Hours by Phyllis Tickle, a book of fixed-hour prayers
InterVarsity Prayer Booklet, compilation of ways to pray, including morning & evening prayers
Common Prayer, a Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals website from the Simple Way, a ministry associated with Shane Claiborne, many of the daily readings are focused on social justice. (You can buy the actual book here)
Receiving the Day by Dorothy Bass, a resource that helps us be more aware of God throughout our daily activities
Have you found written prayers helpful? Share your thoughts below.