Archive for category Practices
The word chakra is Sanskrit for wheel or disk and signifies one of seven basic energy centers in the body that correspond to nerve ganglia branching out from the spinal column, as well as states of consciousness, developmental stages of life, archetypal elements, body functions, colors, sounds, and much, much more.
There are seven main energy centres (chakras) of the body. These chakras are like spirals of energy, each one relating to the others. Using the seven colours of the spectrum, Colour Therapy aims to balance and enhance our body’s energy centres/chakras and also to help stimulate our body’s own healing process. Colour Therapy uses colour to re-balance the Chakras that have become depleted of energy. Colour therapy can be shown to help on a physical level; however there are deeper issues around the colours on the psychological and spiritual levels. Colour has a profound effect on us on all levels, physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. If our energy centres become blocked or depleted, then our body cannot function properly and this, in turn, can lead to a variety of problems on any level.
Our well being is not purely a physical issue. Many more practitioners are now treating patients in a holistic manner. That is to say, we are body, mind and spirit and none of these areas function entirely alone; each has an effect upon the other. This is why Colour Therapy can be so helpful since colour addresses all levels of our being. All life experiences have an affect upon us. Some experiences will be positive and some negative. It is these negative experiences which can manifest themselves physically over time as dis-ease. For example, perhaps over the years we have been in a situation where we have felt unable, for one reason or another, to speak our mind, or to express our needs and feelings. This can manifest as a problem in the throat chakra. The throat chakra relates in the spiritual aspect to self expression. Thus, if our self expression has been blocked, the energy in this area will not be free flowing. Working with the appropriate colour/colours can help to dispel negative feelings, free blocks and re-balance the body. Listed below are each of the spectrum colours and the chakra in which it relates.
Chakra One: Muladhara – (Red / Base)
Earth, Physical identity, oriented to self-preservation
Chakra Two: Svadhisthana – (Orange / Sacral)
Water, Emotional identity, oriented to self-gratification
The second chakra, located in the abdomen, lower back, and sexual organs, is related to the element water, and to emotions and sexuality. It connects us to others through feeling, desire, sensation, and movement. Ideally this chakra brings us fluidity and grace, depth of feeling, sexual fulfillment, and the ability to accept change.
Chakra Three: Manipura – (Yellow / Solar-Plexus)
Fire, Ego identity, oriented to self-definition
Chakra Four: Anahata – (Green / Heart)
Air, Social identity, oriented to self-acceptance
This chakra is called the heart chakra and is the middle chakra in a system of seven. It is related to love and is the integrator of opposites in the psyche: mind and body, male and female, persona and shadow, ego and unity. A healthy fourth chakra allows us to love deeply, feel compassion, have a deep sense of peace and centeredness
Chakra Five: Vishuddha – (Blue / Throat)
Sound, Creative identity, oriented to self-expression
This is the chakra located in the throat and is thus related to communication and creativity. Here we experience the world symbolically through vibration, such as the vibration of sound representing language.
Chakra Six: Ajna – (Indigo / Third Eye)
Light, Archetypal identity, oriented to self-reflection
This chakra is known as the brow chakra or third eye center. It is related to the act of seeing, both physically and intuitively. As such it opens our psychic faculties and our understanding of archetypal levels. When healthy it allows us to see clearly, in effect, letting us “see the big picture.”
Chakra Seven: Sahasrara – (Violet / Crown)
Thought, Universal identity, oriented to self-knowledge
This is the crown chakra that relates to consciousness as pure awareness. It is our connection to the greater world beyond, to a timeless, spaceless place of all-knowing. When developed, this chakra brings us knowledge, wisdom, understanding, spiritual connection, and bliss.
I will add more as time permits …
In the meantime, here is a link to the tones of a Chakra Chanting session:
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Chant is one of the simplest and most sublime ways we as humans have of singing praises to the universe. We have done it the shower, in the car on the way to work, even while making dinner or taking care of household chores. The most obvious benefit of raising our voices in song is that it helps quiet the mind, still the heart and transcend the chaos of the mundane activities most of us endure day after day!
Chanting is a commonly used practice within many religious gatherings. A miriad of traditions embrace chant as one route to spiritual enlightenment. Chants can be both cultural and religious in nature, with many coming from various African and Native American cultures; while Gregorian chant and the chanting of psalms are more prevalent in the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Lutheran and Anglican churches. Vedic chant, Jewish chazzanut, Qur’an reading, Baha’i & Buddhist chants, mantras, Tibetan Buddhist chant involves throat singing, where multiple pitches are produced by each performer. The concept of chanting mantras is of particular significance in many Hindu traditions and other closely related Dharmic Religions.
The repetitive intonement of chanting reverberates deep within our collective being. It washes away the noise in our heads, replacing it with music that resonates from the deepest recesses of our humanity. The cadence pulsates in ways that quiet the fast paced energy created by work and play, replacing it with harmony and inner peace.
The practice of chanting becomes an instrument in the process of spiritually connecting our psyche’s desire to deepen it’s relationship to other enlightened members of the human race. This goal is not concerned with attaining perfection or status, but is instead about embracing the journey and following all things that lead us closer to the stillness that lies within. The quieter the mind, body and spirit, the more aware we become of our true place in the mystical dance of life.
Take some time to sing a song just for the sake of singing. Find a quiet place to let go and allow your voice to soar, for in the soaring you will find a sense of peace you will never wish to relinquish.
More will be added as time permits ….
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Lectio Divina is a slow, contemplative praying of the Scripture. Time set aside for Lectio Divina enables us to discover an underlying spiritual rhythm in our daily life. Within this framework, we create the ability to offer more of ourselves and our relationships to the Spirit, and to accept the embrace God continuously extends to us in the person of his Son, Jesus Christ.
Quietude helps us to recognize that our concerns, relationships, hopes and aspirations naturally intertwine when we clear away the business of our lives and replace it with the recitation of scripture. In listening “with the ear of our hearts” we experience Christ reaching out to us through our own thoughts and memories. Our own personal story becomes the prayer we seek.
How to Practice Lectio Divina
- Choose a text from the Scriptures you wish to pray. Many seekers use in their daily Lectio Divina one of the readings from the Eucharistic liturgy for the day; others prefer to slowly work through a particular book of the Bible. It makes no difference which text is chosen, as long as one has no set goal of “covering” a certain amount of text. The amount of text covered is in God’s hands, not yours.
- Place yourself in a comfortable position and allow yourself to become silent. Some seekers focus for a few moments on their breathing; others have a beloved “prayer word” or “prayer phrase” they gently recite.. For some, the practice known as “centering prayer” makes a good, brief introduction to Lectio Divina. Use whatever method is best for you and allow yourself to enjoy silence for a few moments.
- Turn to the text and read it slowly, gently. Savor each portion of the reading, constantly listening for the “still, small voice” that somehow says, “I am for you today.” Do not expect either miracles or ecstasies. In Lectio Divina, God is teaching us to listen to him, to seek him in silence. He does not reach out and grab us; rather, he gently invites us more deeply into his presence.
- Take the word or phrase into yourself. Memorize it and slowly repeat it to yourself, allowing it to mingle with your inner world of concerns, memories, and ideas. Do not be afraid of distractions. Memories or thoughts are simply parts of yourself that, when they rise up during Lectio Divina, are asking to be given to God along with the rest of your inner self. Allow this inner rumination to invite you into dialogue with God.
- Speak to God. Whether you use words, ideas, or images–or all three–is not important. Interact with God as you would with one who you know loves and accepts you. Give to Spirit what you have discovered during your meditation. Experience God by using the word or phrase he has given you as a means of blessing and of transforming the ideas and memories that your reflection on his word has awakened.
- Rest in God’s embrace. When he invites you to return to your contemplation of his word or to your inner dialogue with him, do so. Learn to use words when words are helpful, and to let go of words when they no longer are necessary. Rejoice in the knowledge that God is with you in both words and silence, in spiritual activity and inner receptivity.Many times in Lectio Divina, you may return to the printed text, either to savor the literary context of a word or phrase that God has given or to seek a new word or phrase to ponder. Other times, only a single word or phrase will fill the whole time set aside for meditation. It is not necessary to assess anxiously the quality of your meditation as if you were “performing” or seeking some goal. Lectio Divina has no goal other than that of being in the presence of God in the praying of Scrip
A Christian Meditation Technique
Centering Prayer is a meditation technique which works primarily with the repetition of a sacred word or formula. It is a silent, non-conceptual form prayer and therefore different from conventional spoken prayers such as the Lord’s Prayer or mentally repeated prayers. The practice of centering prayer seeks to still the activity of the mind in order to experience a loving awareness of God’s presence.
What Is Centering Prayer?
Centering Prayer can be summed up in four steps.
1. Choose a sacred word or phrase such as “Abba,” “Jesus,” “Shalom” or “Love.”
2. Sit with eyes closed and begin repeating the chosen sacred word.
3. When ever other thoughts arise, keep coming back to the sacred word.
4. At the end of your prayer, remain in silence for a while, observing your breathing
Sacred Words for Centering Prayer
Possible sacred words or phrases for Centering Prayer are “Jesus,” “Christos,” “Jesus Christ,” “Father,” “Abba,” “God,” “Mother,” “Mother Mary,”God Mother,” “Amen,” “God.” Other possibilities are “Love,” “Peace,” “Mercy,” “Listen,” “Yes.”
It is also possible to use sacred words from other religious traditions such as “Shalom,” “Salam,” and “Allah.” Suitable longer phrases would be “Kyrie eleison,” “Christe eleison,” “Lord have mercy,” “Christ have mercy,” and “Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me.”
How to Practice Centering Prayer
Centering Prayer is usually practiced just like any other sitting meditation. Find a comfortable sitting posture. This could be any posture in which you can sit comfortably for the length of the prayer while keeping your spine upright. You may sit cross-legged, in half or full lotus posture or simply on a chair.
Repeating a Sacred Word or Phrase
Now begin to silently repeat the chosen sacred word or phrase in your mind. It may be helpful to link this repetition to the rhythm of your breath, for example repeating shalom with each in- and out-breath. The word or phrase can also be split, repeating “sha-” while breathing in and “–lom” when breathing out, or breathing in “Jesus” and breathing out “Christ.”
Practical Tips for Centering Prayer
When any other thoughts, feelings or sensations arise during the practice, simply return your attention to the sacred word or phrase. Do this in a gentle but persistent manner. At the end of the prayer period, remain in silence for a while, keeping your eyes closed and possibly observing your breath.
Before coming out of your meditation, start breathing deeper and more actively and become aware of your surroundings. You might also want to stretch your arms, yawn, sigh or rub your eyes before opening your eyes. You may choose to end your practice by saying a short prayer.
The Essentials of Centering Prayer
Centering Prayer is a Christian approach to meditation. It is one form of Contemplative Prayer, working with the repetition of a sacred word or phrase. By calming, concentrating and ultimately emptying the mind, it seeks to develop a direct awareness of the Divine.
As the German Mystic Meister Eckhart put it: “To be empty of things is to be full of God.” In Centering Prayer, one doesn’t use the mind to reflect on Bible texts or spiritual truths but rather seeks to go beyond the mind itself to directly experience God. It is a Christian practice very similar to the Hindu practice of mantra japa.
Keating, Thomas. Intimacy with God: An Introduction to Centering Prayer.
The Crossroad Publishing Company; Third edition, 2009.
The Loving Search for God: Contemplative Prayer and the Cloud of Unknowing
Continuum Publishing Company; Third Edition, 2007
Contemplative Prayer – Thomas Merton
Bantam Doubleday Publishing, 1996
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- Contemplation: Prayer in the Christian Tradition – Finding Sanctuary (oblosb.wordpress.com)
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Shamanic Drumming – Prayer of the Soul
Indigenous cultures (Native Americans) have been practicing drumming rituals for thousands of years. People all over the world are taking up drumming in astounding numbers. At a grass roots level, some drum circles simply jam and make a lot of rhythmic noise, others however prefer to explore the prayerful ritual of shamanic drumming.
Shamanic drumming is a time-honored ritual utilized to heal and nurture the soul. Shamanic drum circles provide like minded people an opportunity to unite for the attainment of a shared objective. There is power in drumming alone, but that power is elevated and multiplies on many levels when celebrated in a group. The drums draw individual energies together, unifying them into a consolidated force. Synchronized drumming is the most effective, so individuals should alternate the responsibility of setting the tempo and leading the group. Most circles have found the following formula useful in setting both the intention and establishment of a circle.
Formation of a Circle
Simply join together, forming a true circle. The creation of a circle, creates an energy pattern that helps contain, focus, and amplify the power generated by the drums themselves.
Cleanse the Space
To begin, smudge the space and all participants in preparation for the spiritual or inner work to come. The sacred aromas dispel any stagnant or unwanted energy and opens the chakras. Sage, cedar, or sweetgrass are traditionally used for smudging, but any dried herb will suffice. Ignite the smudging agent in a fire-resistant receptacle, blowing out the flames. Use a feather or your hands to draw the smoke over your heart, throat, and face to purify the body, mind, and spirit. Next, smudge your drum by passing it through the smoke. Have the drummers smudge themselves and their drums by passing the smudge bowl clockwise around the circle. Conclude the smudging by blessing the smudge pot.
Call to the Directions
At this point, you may wish to invoke the powers of the Four Directions (Wind-North/Fire-East/Water-South/Earth/West). This is an ancient shamanic rite practiced cross-culturally to access and honor the powers of creation. A facilitator can lead the group in this process. Haveeveryone stand and face the corners together. Rotate clockwise, facing East first, then South, West, and finally North, inviting each Direction to participate and assist in the ceremony. If you wish, you can include Father Sky above and Mother Earth below as the Fifth and Sixth Directions.
Form Your Intent
Having invoked the Four Directions, it is important to form the group’s collective intention – what you desire or expect to accomplish that evening. Intent is in essence the why of the circle. In establishing an intention, the group opens itself to a myriad of possibilities; in sight, sound and spirit.
The next step is to commence the first or prayer round of drumming. All participants should focus their attention on the group intention during this round of drumming. It is the responsibility of the facilitator to set the tempo. A steady, metronome-like pattern with precise intervals at around three beats per second is the most effective. This rapid “Eagle Beat” creates the sensation of inner movement, which if you allow it, will carry you along with it. It is projective in nature and carries your intention, prayers, and awareness into the spirit world that underlies and sustains our physical reality.
The time-frame for this varies from ceremony to ceremony. It is best to trust your intuition in this process. When leading a group, move the beater around the drumhead until you find the sweet spot and the drum begins to sing and hum. Eventually, you will hear the sound of the drum moving around the circle, while resonating through the other drums. At this point all begin to sing in unison. The experience is indescribable. It is here that you will swear that you hear voices chanting and the sounds of different animals. You sense a connectedness to the spirit world. Try to hold this energy for as long as possible. This phase usually reaches a crescendo and eventually wanes, with the drums again sounding out individually. This is usually the point where the facilitator signals the end of the first round with four thundering beats.
Once the group intention has been introduced, commence the second or healing round by drumming the pulsating lub-dub, lub-dub of a heartbeat rhythm. Stroke a steady heartbeat rhythm at around two beats per second. The magnetic pulse of this rhythm draws power from the spirit world into the circle itself. Each participant must surrender all attachment and clear themselves of any emotional obstructions if success is to be achieved. It is best to close your eyes and focus on the sound of the drums. Let the drums do the healing. The drums will shape the present energy into a powerful vortex that will spiral out into the fibers of Mother Earth’s web. When the power reaches an ebb, signal the end of the healing round with four booming beats.
Commence the final or thank you round of drumming with the even cadence of the eagle-beat. Sustain a tempo of three beats per second for one to five minutes. Participants should give thanks for all prayers answered and receipt of the intention by the spirit world.
Closing the Circle
Finally, signal the end of the drumming with four resounding beats. It is important to conclude the drumming circle by rotating counterclockwise, thanking each of the Directions for their participation and assistance. This counterclockwise movement will close the energy vortex and signal that the sacred time of focus has ended.
Many have found this basic formula to be very effective in a myriad of environments and situations. Feel free however to adapt them to serve your own needs. Rhythm is a very personal thing. Experiment with different tempos and rhythms. Spirit will guide the way, I assure you!
To learn more, visit: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Drum_circle
Drumming Mp3: http://www.shamanismcanada.com/drumming.html
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The Chartres Labyrinth
Around 1230, as the Cathedral of Chartres was being built, a labyrinth forty feet across was set with blue and white stones into the nave of the church. Similar labyrinths were installed in other French cathedrals in places such as Amiens, Rheims, Sens, Arras and Auxerre. Around the 18th century, all of these except Chartres, were destroyed. [The labyrinth at Amiens was later restored in 1894.]
These labyrinths were arranged using the same geometric pattern: twelve circles enclosed within a single meandering path which slowly guide one to the center (rosette). The path makes 28 loops, seven to the left side of center, seven to the right of center followed by seven to the left on the outside and finally seven to the outside right concluding with a 90° turn inward toward the rosette.
The Middle Ages were a time of pilgrimages. Most people; unable to make the grand pilgrimage to Jerusalem, considered by Christians to symbolize the Kingdom of Heaven, would make pilgrimages to important cathedrals such as Canterbury, Santiago de Compostella and, of course, Chartres. Once at Chartres, they would end their pilgrimage by walking the labyrinth to the center, and then slowly retracing their steps, returning to the “outside world” and to their homes.
The Chartres Labyrinth has been referred to by four different names:
le daedale (or Daedalus, the legendary architect who built a labyrinth for King Minos of Crete) Just as Theseus struggled against the Minotaur, so man struggles against evil, and is guided back out through the maze by Ariadne or divine grace. The labyrinth of Chartres, however, is not a complex maze but a single path (unicursal) with no hidden turns or dead-ends.
la lieue (or league: which is a distance of about three miles) Although the length of the path is only 260 meters, in the Middle Ages some pilgrims would walk the labyrinth on their knees. This exercise would take about an hour, or the time needed to walk three miles.
le chemin de Jerusalem (or road to Jerusalem) By walking the labyrinth, the faithful could make a substitute pilgrimage to the Holy Land, and be united in spirit with the Crusaders.
le chemin du paradis (or road to paradise, the heavenly Jerusalem) By walking the labyrinth, the faithful trace the path of our long and laborious life on earth, beginning with birth, at the entrance, and ending with death, at the center. The way out symbolizes purgatory and resurrection.
These references to the labyrinth at Chartres, show how medieval theologians and artisans utilized pagan myths and symbols to develop Christian concepts.
How to Walk the Labyrinth
Stay on the path – walk it between the darkened lines. You will discover that this takes a bit of concentration and a focused intent. Hint: look down, staying focused on the path, and centered in mind, body and spirit.
Once you enter, think of nothing else but the path. Don’t worry about stepping over the lines and onto the next turn. If you step over a line just allow spirit to provide direction to your walk.
It is perfectly all right to pass someone if you wish to go at a different pace. Step into the next path as you pass, and then return to the path you were on. (You may also step off onto one of the cruciforms to allow others to pass if you find you are walking slowly)
The Chartres labyrinth is a single (or unicursal) path – there is only one way in, and the same route out. This means that you may meet people walking the other direction. When you reach the center, you will have come only half way. Rest awhile, meditate and then return the same way you entered.
When you reach the rosette (center), stay for a while. Notice any sensations in your body, or if there are any changes in your awareness of self, time or surroundings.
If it is not too cold, walk the labyrinth barefoot. You may even run or dance. Enjoy the contact with the energy of the surface. Sing or hum to yourself as you journey the labyrinth, repeat a prayer (mantra), or simply smile and enjoy the serenity of the walk.
If you are with group, you may want to hold hands and move together in a great whirling dance, or walk meditatively single file.
At a time when the labyrinth is still & quiet, you may wish to do a Zen meditation walk. You do this by placing one foot directly in front of the other, moving slowly, taking one step with each breath while focusing on your feet.
Four Paths through the Labyrinth
There are many ways in which the labyrinth can be walked. Begin each by quieting the mind and following the path that is right for you.
Path of Image:
Follow any memories, dreams, or images that arise as you walk.
Path of Silence:
Empty your mind and open your heart to the silence of the walk.
Path of Prayer:
Recite a prayer, scripture verse, or line a poetry as you walk.
Path of Questioning:
Focus on a question, don’t expect an answer. Simply explore the possibilities.
There are as many different ways of experiencing the labyrinth as there are walkers. Enjoy her gentle embrace as you find the way that suits your temperament, spirit and journey.
Taize‘ Prayer / Meditation
In 1940, a 25-year-old man from Switzerland, Brother Roger, travelled to the small village of Taize’ in the Burgundy Region of France with the dream of starting an ecumenical community for contemplation and reconciliation for people of all faiths.
Today, this community is made up of people from several continents and various denominations and draws ten’s of thousands of people from all corners of the world. They come in search of trust and connection in their lives.
Three times daily they come together to pray in the Church of Reconciliation. An important part of the Taize’ experience is the singing/chanting of simple meditative songs developed specifically for the prayer service.
“Singing is one of the most important forms of prayer. A few words over and over again reinforce the meditative quality of the prayer. These simple chants can provide a way of praying when one is alone, during the day or at night, or even in the silence of one’s heart.”
~ Brother Roger
What is Taize‘Prayer?
Taize’ prayer is flexible and has no real beginning or end. Songs are repeated over and over again to help us enter quietly into the presence of God. The simple phrases are easily memorized so that books are not necessary. In the music and prayer of Taize’ many different languages are often used to reflect both the International and Ecumenical nature of the community. It is appropriate, whenever possible, that different languages be heard in the prayer as a reminder that we are all part of one universal Church, which is for all nations and peoples and exists in all times and ages.
People often ask why Latin is used in many of the chants. The brothers found that with so many people gathering together who did not understand each other’s language, a common language of unity needed to be found. Although a ‘dead’ language, Latin is able to bring people together and its phrases are easily picked up and understood.
In this busy world, we need more and more to nurture ourselves on things spiritual, while quieting life long enough to hear the sounds of silence that exist between the notes each chant emanates. The prayer tradition of Taize’ is based on the monastic hours of prayer and can help us let to go of our daily preoccupations while allowing us to get in touch with the spiritual side of ourselves.
What Can I Expect?
People may kneel or sit, taking whatever posture is most comfortable for them. Taize’ combines candlelight, silence and Scripture with simple chants to help build awareness of God’s presence within ourselves while in community.
As the psalmist wrote: “ O Lord, my heart is not lifted up, my eyes are not raised too high; I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me. But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a child quieted at its mother’s breast.”
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Prayer, in its purest form, is essentially the first set of tin cans utilized by mankind to communicate with the creator. Although answers may not always appear in tangible form, they frequently unfold in mysterious ways! That in itself has motivated the faithful to seek and utilize prayer as an outlet to create more intimate and occasionally complex methods of entering into dialogue with Yahweh.
With this in mind, I will introduce through comparison and contrast, an examination of the development of ‘The Liturgy of the Hours.’ I will begin with its link to Judaic custom, lead into its evolution as a form of communal prayer, and finally close with its present distinction as the “Divine Office” of Christian liturgical worship.
The Liturgy of the Hours – Early beginnings
The Liturgy of the Hours is an ancient prayer form with origins traceable to the Old Covenant of Moses. Written within this contract was the command to offer a morning and evening sacrifice (Ex. 29:38-29). During the Babylonian exile (587-521 BC), when no Temple was available for worship, a series of readings and psalms substituted for the animal sacrifices of the temple; creating in essence – a sacrifice of praise.
After the people returned to Judea and the Temple was re-built, the prayer services developed in Babylon for the local assemblies (synagogues) were brought into use for Temple worship. In addition to Morning and Evening Prayer to accompany the sacrifices, prayer at the Third, Sixth and Ninth hours of the day were added. The Acts of the Apostles notes that early converts to Christianity continued to pray at these hours (Third: Acts 2:15; Sixth: Acts 10:9; 10: 3, 13) as a means of staying connected to their Jewish roots.
As Monastic and eremitical (hermit) prayer developed in the early Christian Church, the Psalms were recognized as the cornerstone of the ‘new’ Liturgy of the Hours. The Book of Psalms is a compilation of 150 poems and songs which convey the profound and powerful experiences of the Jewish people. They are filled with the heart-felt emotion of a people whose relationship with the Divine was tested at every turn. Each Psalm is unique – some are prayers crying out for help and guidance in time of need or sadness; others praise God’s faithfulness; while yet others offer thanksgiving.
At the heart of the Psalms, lies the familial story of a Father and his unruly children. Their family travels take us on a journey from darkness to light, dust to flesh, and finally from subservience to dominion over all creation. What is implied in this story is that God no longer wished to live in isolation, but desired to form a partnership with his children. Man, to acknowledge this relationship,communicates by responding through the depth and beauty of prayer. It is from this familial (Communal) structure that the early Christian Church developed the theology of “The Liturgy of the Hours”.
Jewish Prayer – An Overview
Exactly when or where fixed hour prayer entered Judaism is unclear; however, by the time of King David the psalmist was singing, “Seven times a day do I pray to you.” (Ps. 119:164) And, while the specific times when these prayers were situated within the ancient Jewish day are uncertain, we are aware that the setting of the number of ‘offices’ at seven per day has remained fairly constant. This paper will focus on the three primary hours in Judaism and address how they enfold into the Liturgy of the Hours.
The Jewish day begins with the setting of the sun and concludes with sunrise of the next new day. This sense of order for the Hebrew people is a natural way of life. Hence, the Jewish book of Prayer is known as the Siddur, meaning “order”. Siddur derives from the same root as the word ‘Seder’, which refers to the Jewish feast of Passover.
During Old Testament times, the hours of prayer were referred to as the hours of “oblation” or sacrifice (Daniel 9:21, II Kings 16:15). Records show that the prophet Daniel prayed three times a day (Daniel 6:10). Prayer is a means by which man joins himself to God. It is a way to uncover the Divine in both man and creation. It is designed to lift us from the chaos of worldliness – from an aimless and confusing wilderness – to a life of meaning and purpose. Prayer has the power to move us from where we are to where we are destined to be. It is an elevator of sorts used to ascend and soar ever higher – from the darkness of matter to the very source of light. It is the link between lower and higher, between heaven and earth, and between body and soul.
These prayers were instilled as part of Judaic Law and significantly played into Daniel’s daily prayer routine. Within this obligatory prayer structure falls the hours of Shacharit (Morning), practiced at the third hour of the day, Minchah (Midday) said at the sixth hour and Ma’ariv (Evening), recited at Sunset. Each hour is said to have been inspired by one of the great Prophets; Shacharit by Abraham, Minchah by Isaac and Ma’ariv to Jacob. Let us now examine these three primary hours of Jewish Prayer.
Three Primary Hours of Prayer – Judaism
Ma’ariv – A Prayer of Perseverance and Truth.
As day wanes, we wrap up our activities and wearily sit back to reflect. Though the day has been successful, we realize there is yet so much to achieve. We yearn to complete so many tasks but darkness has encroached. The night grows bleak. We sense the mortality of the human condition as we realize that daylight and warmth will not last much longer. The morning’s enthusiasm and the afternoon’s momentum have subsided, as the night envelopes us in a dark and brooding sense of despair. Can we overcome the chill of night and draw into it the warmth of God?
The answer is a resounding yes. Jacob responded by authoring a prayer for it. Why Jacob? Jacob personified the steadfast commitment of divine truth that never wavers despite the conditions. His life was a string of dark moments, difficult trials and overwhelming challenges. Yet through it all he never despaired. When he dipped into valleys of hopelessness, his eyes sought only the distant mountain peaks. When the horizon looked bleak, his heart and mind were filled with forward momentum. Night did fall; but Jacob was gripped by inspiration and joy rather than chilling melancholy. He recognized these moments as the perfect time to craft a prayer of gratitude to God for having given to him, and through him to us, the gift called night.
Thus, prayer is the ladder that appeared in Jacob’s dream: “A ladder set in the earth, with its top reaching into heaven, Lo, behold the messengers of God ascend and descend upon it.” (Genesis 28:12) Jacob’s ladder becomes the tool by which Judaism has for centuries reflected on its relationship with Yahweh (Covenant) and how this same God of history came to introduce us to the Messiah of the new covenant (Salvation).
Shacharit – A Prayer of Optimism and Hope.
The first stage of the day occurs as dawn breaks. This moment is filled with promise. The excitement of potential is in the air. The divine energy that corresponds with this time of day is optimism. Abraham, a man of positive spirit and infinite optimism, accordingly coined the Shacharit prayer. Shacharit comes from the Hebrew word ‘shachar’ which means dawn or morning. Stories of Abraham speak of his reverence and devotion to beginning the day in a spirit of thanksgiving. He was an early riser. He spoke at length with God in the early morning hours. To Abraham, prayer was the perfect beginning to the day. It provided focus for one’s thoughts as well as offered the spiritual strength to face the mundane and often vexing problems of everyday existence.
Minchah – A Prayer of Contemplation and Resolve
Minchah is placed at midday and is the one prayer that forces us to stop our busyness and meet God halfway. It stops us in the middle of work, shopping and the base tasks performed daily. It is an oasis of spiritual time in the midst of a busy day – a moment to contemplate, calm and focus priorities. As such, it is perhaps one of the most important and meaningful prayers in the Jewish Day. It takes courage to inform the world you will stop to chat with its Maker. This is what makes it so powerful. The Rabbis of the Talmud deduced the role of Isaac in creating Minchah from the verse in the Talmud that tells us that “he went into the fields to converse with God.” It is said that the Prophet Elijah was only answered in his Minchah prayer—because it’s the prayer for which the biggest sacrifice is required.
Divergence or Convergence
Christians and Jews alike have followed a similar formula or structure of prayer for thousands of years. From the Old Testament tribes of Moses to the monasteries of K’umran, each found a method for utilizing prayer to bring them closer to the divine; and as we have seen, create thought-provoking prose to reflect on and remind them of Gods place in life’s journey.
Books of prayer in both traditions have become the cornerstone of each respective faith. The Hebrew people have the Talmud & Pentateuch (Books which contain the Laws and ethical codes for Jewish living). For the early Christian church, the letters of Paul written to various communities he founded along the Mediterranean coast and the Breviary which housed the first liturgical prayers of this newly formed faith provide the foundation.
The Breviary – “The Divine Office”
The first Breviary appeared in the 11th century at the Benedictine Abbey of Monte Cassini in the Tuscan hills near what is today Assisi, Italy. The heart and soul of the Benedictine Breviary is the Psalter – a book containing the Psalms andother Liturgical texts of the Roman Church. What has become known as ‘The Divine Office’ or ‘The Liturgy of the Hours,’ is rooted in prayers of the Benedictine Breviary.
Much like the Jewish Prophets, the Benedictine’s recognized the movement of time and its importance in the bigger scheme of daily living. The prayers, however, were structured not so much out of reverence for time as God created it, but as a reminder of specific events in the life of Christ.
Primary Hours of prayer – Christianity
Lauds – A Prayer of New Life
Lauds or Morning Prayer has as its intended focus the Resurrection of Christ. In this event, Christians reflect on the light that came forth as the stone was rolled away, revealing an empty tomb. The transcendent light of God manifest in Jesus was so bright that Mary of Magdala initially did not recognize Jesus. In Lauds, the people of the Christian faith find new hope in both the dawning of a new era and in the everlasting life forged for all through Christ’s journey from death to life manifest in the living spirit. As stated in the General Instruction for the Liturgy of Hours, “We are called to remember the Light of the World as we see the first light of day and prepare for our day’s work in the same spirit as the one who gave his life so we could truly live!”
In comparing Shacharit to Lauds, we see similarities in not only the timing, but in the theology which surrounds both. While Abraham prayed to God to begin his day, Christians offer thanks for the new beginning afforded them by God’s human entrance into this world, providing the way, the truth and the righteous lifestyle required to follow him into the Kingdom of heaven.
Sext – A time of Rest and Devotion
Sext is the hour when the sun is at its fullest. It is seen as a time of quiet reflection and grace. According to St. Ambrose, we should pray at the noon hour because that is the time when the Divine light is at its fullness. Origen, St. Augustine and several other church fathers regard this hour as favorable to prayer since it was at this hour Christ called out to God from the Garden of Gethsemane. It was at the sixth hour that Abraham was visited by three angels, and again at the sixth hour when Adam and Eve ate that intriguing apple which changed the course of history. Lastly, and above all, it was the time when Christ was nailed to the Cross. This memory overshadows all others, leaving its fingerprints on the prayers specific to this hour. All these mystic events suggest the sixth hour as a focal point in the day – a sort of pause in the affairs of life –which have had a profound influence on the development of prayer in Christianity. Though Sext is not one of the primary hours of the Church, it is important in the life of the faithful and is analogous to that of Minchah – a time of contemplation and resolve. It functions as a constant reminder that like Christ, each Christian needs to persevere and be courageous in moving through and confronting the world in the face of life’s many challenges.
Vespers – A Time of Thanksgiving and Repentance
Just as lauds takes place in the early morning, so vespers takes place at sundown – at the hour in which the ritual sacrifice was offered with incense in the Temple of Jerusalem. At that hour, Jesus after his death on the Cross was lying in the sepulcher, having offered himself to the Father for the salvation of the world. The powerful symbols of light and dark and the rising and setting of the sun came to be an integral part of this prayer service.
The two most important ritual gestures associated with vespers are the lighting of the lamps (lucernare in Latin) and the offering of incense. The lighting of the lamps is a reminder that the end of the day is near (as was the rising sun at matins). This simple gesture is also associated with the risen Christ. Incense is the vessel by which prayers reach the Divine. Vespers derives its name from the Star in the sky the night Jesus and his disciples entered Jerusalem to celebrate the Last Supper.
Vespers, like Ma’ariv, is like a kiss born of love. It’s that special moment where the gentle lips of dusk touch softly the coming shudder of night. As the varied emotions of the day flutter through us like a current, there is a gradual movement toward embracing this last vestige of influence we hold over daylight. A chill permeates our connection with time like frost on a windowpane, creating a sort of cloudiness that takes us by surprise.
As we allow the tender touch of night to take hold, a realization overcomes us – we are not alone in this world. At the source of our angst is a memory of our last encounter with the darkness which holds us in its arms like a mother cradling an infant. It is this recollection of comfort and peace that brings a sense of heartfelt joy to the praying of Vespers.
Though theologically Vespers is the hour of Christ’s beckoning on the cross, “My God, My God, why have thou forsaken me,” it is also the hour he surrendered his spirit. It is with this mindset that praying vespers encourages us to let go of events that drag us down and inspires us to rest awhile -releasing to Yahweh the stresses of the human condition. In doing so, we might be able to reconnect to the light and roll away the ‘stone’ that blocks our path to freedom.
The gift of the Vespers lies in its ability to reveal the spirit once freed within us and encourages that spirit to remain. Like Jacob, using the ladder to climb out of the abyss of hopelessness, vespers provides the means to see that God will be there to catch the Christian faithful if they falter. The outcome is a bit of a karmic schizophrenia which results in the ability to live in the world while simultaneously rejecting it for the peace and tranquility of a modern day Valhalla.
Given my original intent – to provide an examination of The Liturgy of the Hours through comparison and contrast – this paper would not be complete without a closing that offers a simple recap of the technical differences – yet fundamental similarities – that provide the foundation for worship and prayer in the Jewish and Christian faiths.
Judaism is a God-centered faith (Yahweh) while Christianity is human-focused (Jesus). By this, I mean Judaism adheres to the principle that man has a direct relationship with God with the primary purpose of serving God through a defined Law. Christianity, on the other hand, believes that God provides freedom from the law through salvation. For the Jewish people, this places prayer as a literal obligation of the law given them by Yahweh himself. The Christian people, however live prayer by mirroring the life and story of Jesus day-to-day.
Judaism provides man direct access to God through prayer and repentance. Any form of mediator interferes with man’s relationship to God. Christianity believes that man cannot receive access to God in any way other than through the person of Jesus.
Ultimately, Jewish prayer is about man transforming the world to reveal God by bringing the ‘experience’ of Heaven to earth. The Christian view is that man leaves life behind to seek things not of the world but of a Utopian Kingdom beyond this world.
The Hours of prayer mimic this revelation for both Christians and Jews alike. For to be at peace with oneself there is the implication that one must let go of the things of this world. The more we communicate this release, the more clearly its message will resonate with the soul. That is why the prophets call all to pray unceasingly…..
בוקר, צהרים ולילה שאנחנו היינו נקרא להלל את השם של יאהוואה מעל לכל דברים. ברך שם שלו!
Morning, Noon and Night we are called to praise the name of Yahweh above all things.
Blessed be his Holy name!
(Close of Ma’ariv)
From the rising of the sun to its setting,
may the Lord’s name be praised!
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Related articles and Videos:
- Gregorian Chant (liv2write2day.wordpress.com)
- The Sun that Bids Us Rest is Waking, Our Brethren ‘neath the Western Sky: A Meditation on the Movement and Mystery of Time (adw.org)