By Rev. Dr. Claire Annelise Smith, Director of youTheology Institute, home of youTheology Journey with High School Students, April 15, 2015
Have you ever done something that was important, and then one day it was as if the scales fell off and you realized that it was even more significant than you realized? It was like that with praying the hours during youTheology’s Journey With High School Students.
Now, when you hear praying the hours you probably think immediately of the Liturgy of the Hours. You are right. However, in youTheology Institute’s Journey With High School Students, we use an adapted format of the Liturgy. What this looks like is starting later with fewer times than the original Divine Office. There was, however, one memorable early rising.
Praying the Hours Before Daylight!
One year, upon hearing the times at which the Liturgy of the Hours was prayed in the old days, one of the youth made the suggestion that we should get up at least one morning at 3.00 am for our waking prayer. We adults bravely said, “yes.” We did it with the understanding that we would all go back to bed after the prayer and then get up at the regular time. I know. Not quite as hardy as the monastery crew.
The morning came and we were a sight to behold as we ranged from fully awake to sleep walking. Nevertheless, we pressed on and we did it! Needless to say, some young people were less than impressed. I wish I could tell you that early rising became a practice, but alas. . . .
Continuity in Praying the Hours
So, with the youTheology Journey With High School Students we frame our days together by praying the hours—morning, mid-morning, noon, mid-afternoon, vespers, compline. Vespers has the most flexibility in terms of shape and content. For the others, we basically follow the traditional pattern of readings, prayers, reflection, with some singing. For some services, the readings came from both Scripture and tradition as we adapt to our context.
Praying the hours is a useful framework as it gives structure to our day and reminds us of the importance of pausing for prayer. It provides continuity through an established pattern that youth can expect when we are gathered on site, when we’re out doing hands-on ministry, and while we’re on pilgrimage. They themselves look for the prayers and share them out at the appropriate time. In addition, it is continuity in terms of connecting with God and with each other in prayer. It also provides continuity with the wider church and saints of old.
What About the Scales That Fell Off?
One day it hit me. The practice of praying the hours was providing continuity between two vital aspects of the program—spiritual disciplines and theological reflection. You see, as a Pan-Methodist program, we gravitated to the Wesleyan Quadrilateral for theological reflection. When we took another look at the orders we used for praying the hours, we realized that we had all four aspects of the Quadrilateral in many of them.
Any time you’re asking people to process and reflect, that they use their reason is a given. In addition, we used readings from Scripture and the tradition, drawing on their experiences and the young people’s current experience of God at work. Could you ask for more? Thus, in explicit and implicit ways we were bridging and continuing, creating an integrated whole for the program.
There is an aspect of continuity that is beyond us, however. It is a wish, a hope, a prayer that the model of prayer from waking to sleeping that is used in praying the hours will enable students to cultivate and continue their own ritual of prayer when they leave us.
What practices do you have for continuity?