Monastic life in all faiths is ordered around prayer. Such prayer sets the rhythm for each day. It keeps members focused on the mission of the order and the life of the community, as well as the spiritual life of each member.
I spent 13 years in the Discalced Carmelite monastic order, which traces its origins to hermits living on Mt. Carmel in the 13th century. As is the case with most religious orders, the Discalced Carmelites prayed together at least six times a day on a regular schedule, using Latin names for the hours. These were also known as Canonical hours, because they have been used by all orders in the Roman Catholic Church for many centuries.
As our Muslim friends have so ably demonstrated, prayer can also provide the framework for secular life, including busy workdays. Inspired by what I learned in the monastery and from the example of Muslims, I adapted the canonical hours to my spiritual practices.
Here is the structure of ancient and universal canonical hours:
6:00 AM Lauds (Morning Prayer): The morning begins with praise.
9:00 AM Terce (The Third Hour):The community pauses in its work to remember God.
12:00 PM Sext (The Sixth Hour): The community prays before the noon meal.
3:00 PM None (The Ninth Hour): Mid afternoon prayer.
6:00 PM Vespers (Evening Prayer): Praise and thanksgiving as the day ends.
Bedtime Compline: The community prepares for sleep in peace.
Prayer Can Provide a Framework For Divine Order in Today’s Fast-Paced Secular Lives
Following the intent and inspiration of the canonical hours, here is my version of prayers for a contemporary workday:
As I rise I set my intention for the day. I will live fully in peace and with compassion.
As I begin my work, I bless my space and my tools. I pray that all my work today contribute to the good of all those I meet and brings me the resources I need for my life.
I pause for lunch and recall to mind the presence of the divine. I nurture myself with material and spiritual food.
During an afternoon break, I rededicate myself to doing well by doing good.
As I prepare for the evening, I give thanks for events of the day.
As I prepare for bed, I reflect on my actions of the day and their alignment with my true nature.
When I was in the religious order, I followed these prayers every day without fail. It’s not so easy to remember to stop for prayer in the contemporary day, but it’s definitely doable and rewarding. When I first adapted the hours, I wrote prayers and quotes on file cards that I could carry with me throughout the day. They helped me focus and get grounded at those times when I wished to pray and meditate.
I am now returning to this prayer practice, using as a mantra the Hebrew word for peace, which is “shalom.” This means to pause from work for a few minutes, breathe in on the first syllable, “shal” and breathe out on the “om.” I repeat the practice several times, then center into silence.
How Can You Build Your Workday Around Prayer ?
What are your thoughts?
How do you weave moments of prayer into your work day?
What can you learn from the prayer life of religious orders?
We welcome your thoughts and questions.
Many blessings to you,
John Sullivan was resource director of the first major directory of spirituality and work resources, published by Spirit of Health! In 1995. With his wife Pat, he is the co-founder of the Spirit and Work Resource Center, www.spiritandworkresourcecenter.com.