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Three Prayer Veterans tell why they’ve stuck with fixed-hour prayer

Meet three people who feel called to fixed-hour prayer, admit it has its ups and downs, and can’t imagine not doing it. As important as common prayer is in their lives, all also advise practicing other forms of prayer as well.

Organizing your life to pray at certain times—using words that others are also praying—takes effort and intention.

Meet three people who feel called to fixed-hour prayer, admit it has its ups and downs, and can’t imagine not doing it. As important as common prayer is in their lives, all also advise practicing other forms of prayer as well.

God’s way of weaving a community

Benedictine Father Anthony Ruff says that by nature he’s a high-stress, busy person, someone who has a hard time “to simply be” in God’s presence. The founder of the National Catholic Youth Choir, he also teaches at St. John’s University and School of Theology in Collegeville, Minnesota, and lectures widely on hymnody and choral music.  

“I became a monk when I was 25, so I’ve been praying the Liturgy of the Hours for 18 years. It has shaped my life in teaching me—very, very gradually—how to slow down, clear the mind of distractions, and concentrate. It’s tempting to let myself think about other things at prayer,” he says.

Whether you’re a monk or “in the world,” it’s a struggle to make fixed-hour prayer a priority. Ruff sometimes has several days or weeks of feeling unfocused and “a bit split from my true self day after day at prayer. Then the Spirit comes and I cycle into a more peaceful and rewarding period. Along the way, one learns that it’s really God’s grace drawing us. It’s really him praying in us and not our work.”

As God through prayer has helped Ruff find a still point within, something he relishes going to, he’s experienced the inner peace that results in a balanced life of prayer and work.

When he’s faithful to private prayer and lectio divina, he finds that common prayer means more. “Also, it’s good to remember that the Christian life in inherently communal, so that all the distractions and tensions and rigmarole that sometimes come into common prayer really are part and parcel of being a community, united in Christ,” Ruff says. 

Reconciling the world to God

Twenty years ago, Reformed Church in America minister David Muyskens sought medical treatment for stress. His doctor asked, “Are you trying to do it all yourself?”

Muyskens began repeating the Jesus Prayer, explored other prayer forms in Don Postema’s Space for God, and discovered centering prayer. He’s also visited monasteries, churches, and communities that offer daily prayer.

“Most places with morning and evening prayer are places of community. And those communities have a powerful impact on other people, like Corrymeela working for reconciliation in Northern Ireland, Taize ministering to youth, and Iona working for peace and justice,” he says.

People often visit Iona seeking peace and quiet but learn during their stay on that cold, windy island to seek peace and justice. Morning prayers often end with the response “We will not offer to God offerings that cost us nothing.”

When Muyskens led a group to Iona, he found that praying in the old stone church, seeing stained glass windows about St. Columba, and touring the island made him feel connected with generations who have prayed there.

“I was struck by the Iona Community’s commitment to prayer and its relevance to the needs of people and the world,” Muyskens says. He saw it in regular prayers for peace, justice, and healing and in worship dramas about everyday life.

At breakfast, he and his wife read from Celtic prayer books by Philip Newell, a former warden of Iona Abbey. He also sets aside 20 minutes, twice a day, for centering prayer, mostly alone but twice a week in a group.

“The result of committing myself to regular prayer has been a greater consciousness of God in the rest of life and a letting go of my perfectionist tendencies,” Muyskens says.

Joining a continuous cascade

Phyllis Tickle says her life pivots on finding a breviary on a bookstore junk pile. The young mother soon learned to pray the daily offices at 6 a.m., 9 a.m., noon, 3 p.m., and compline (bedtime).

For four decades, she’s continued praying the hours, all while raising a family, writing or editing dozens of books, and working as a professor, poet in residence, publisher, and religion editor for Publishers Weekly.

“I couldn’t have done all of the above without the practice of the daily office. For some weird reason, you have more time if you observe regular prayers than if you don’t. But you do it for God, not for what it does for you,” she says.

Though co-workers noticed she often arrived a few minutes late to 9 a.m. meetings or headed for a bathroom every three hours, Tickle didn’t talk about her prayers. Nor did she much mention them in autobiographical books, such asThe Shaping of a Life or The Graces We Remember.

“I was fearful of religiosity, shy of being ‘outed.’ When you have seven children and work in a New York newsroom—when you lead my life—you’re very far removed from the holy. You aren’t what most people expect. I hope I am learning to be holy as the Lord would have me be,” she says.

Early on she wondered whether she was trying to impose a sense of holiness on herself. “I realized it’s the historic rhythm of Christian life we were born to, though not everyone is called to it. Praying the office is the way I flow in and back out of the continuous cascade of praise before the throne of God.

“Christians all over the globe do this every day. I pick up words that Christians in the Eastern time zone have finished, and I pass it on to Christians in the Mountain time zone. It’s the only place I can meet the whole global church,” Tickle says.

Tickle wrote The Divine Hours series for people who want to pray the offices but have trouble understanding the language and organization of The Book of Common Prayer or similar breviaries.

Still, she says that if you start praying the hours but sense the discipline is not for you, then move on till you find a prayer practice better suited to who God made you to be.

As a rabbi once told her, “It is the prayers one says which interest God, not the prayers one does not say.”