Thursday, October 12, 2017

Learning to Love the Divine Office

Though as a 37-year-old Dominican novice, I now treasure the Divine Office (also called the Liturgy of the Hours), it was hardly a case of love at first sight.  I remember well my first experience of praying - or attempting to pray! - the Office.  I was an eighteen-year-old college freshman, and my friend Samantha had invited me to pray morning prayer together.  Like many a college student, I was not a morning person so the 6:45 am alarm clock buzz was a rude awakening.  Not fully awake, I tried to follow Samantha as we moved through Lauds, unsure of when I was supposed to bow or make the Sign of the Cross.  Though she had arranged the various colored ribbons in the thick office book, I kept losing my place as I clumsily flipped around to different sections of the office book from antiphons to psalms to the gospel canticle. 

Moreover, the words didn’t feel like my own.  In Central Wisconsin during the winter, it’s still dark at 7 am, so the prayers about “greeting the dawn” seemed out of place.  More importantly, these words from the psalms of searing anger, euphoric joy, and bitter complaint weren’t my own.  Though I was a bit anxious about an upcoming exam in chemistry class and excited about my upcoming weekend plans, my emotional state surely didn’t match that of the psalms Samantha and I spoke together.  How, then, could this prayer be genuine? 

Fast forward nearly twenty years from that cold Wisconsin morning in the dorm lobby, and I have grown to cherish this prayer of the Church which at first seemed awkward and unauthentic – though now as then I sometimes lose my place as I flip around to different parts of the Office book!

During our CDN prayer panel in September, Dominican Friar Carl Joseph Paustian spoke of his love for shared prayer in Dominican life.  He also responded to the question my sleepy eighteen-year-old self wondered when I tried praying the Divine Office for the first time.  “When the psalms we’re praying don’t match our inner state, well, we’re not praying those prayers for ourselves.  There are people somewhere in the world feeling that emotion – we can offer it to God on their behalf,” Carl Joseph explained.

A page from Dominican Praise (photo: Rhonda Miska)

We learned more about the Divine Office when earlier this month Caldwell Dominican Sister Honora Werner spoke to us about Dominican Praise, a provisional book of prayer for Dominican women.  Seven years in the making, Dominican sisters from seventeen congregations around the United States shared their gifts as scholars, translators, liturgists, poets, artists, and musicians - in addition to prayer and financial support - to create this beautiful book for praying the Divine Office.

“This is not private prayer, it is the prayer of the Church for the life of the world.  We pray for those who cannot or will not pray for themselves,” Sister Honora told us.  She explained that we leave behind our personal preferences in order to pray together as an expression of common life and our solidarity with all humanity.  As Brother Carl Joseph said, and as I have come to sense more and more, the psalms we chant in the Divine Office are not intended to reflect our mood at the moment, but rather are offered on behalf of all humankind.  The practice pulls me out of wherever I am at internally and connects me with all creation: with those suffering the effects of hurricanes and earthquakes, with those who are incarcerated or on death row, with those who daily face poverty and war, with both the victims and the perpetrators of all forms of violence.

Since coming to the CDN, we have prayed the Liturgy of the Hours not only in our novitiate chapel, but also with the Dominican men of the Central and Southern Provinces at the priory, with the Dominican Sisters of Peace at their Kentucky motherhouse, with Dominican Sisters of Springfield, Illinois, with the Trappist monks at Gethsemani Abbey in Kentucky, and with the Benedictine sisters in Ferdinand, Indiana. 

When we visited Gethsemani Abbey and I walked through a display on Trappist life and spirituality, these words from an abbot’s chapter talk resonated:  “the Liturgy of the Hours…is an ongoing restructuring of our mind and hearts.” I do sense that the words from Scripture we pray together daily are working on me, sometimes consciously but more often what I sense is a subterranean level as I continue to discern vowed apostolic life as a Dominican Sister of Sinsinawa.  

The rhythm of beginning the day with Morning Prayer, gathering again before dinner after the busyness of day for Evening prayer, and then closing the day before sleep with Night prayer seems to draw me into a greater awareness of each day as gift.  It reminds me that each morning is a new beginning and new grace, that each evening is a chance to “unplug” from the busyness of the day and give thanks, and that each night is an opportunity to surrender and rest.  The practice of praying the Divine Office sanctifies the day and creates opportunities at “hinge moment” of each day to pause, breathe, recollect myself, drop anchor, and offer praise and petition. 

In this daily rhythm of sharing hymns, psalms, proclamation and preaching, a Gospel canticle, the Our Father, silence, petitions, and a closing blessing, I aspire to offer service to the world and grow in my yes to Holy Mystery. Moreover, in this prayer we at the CDN are in communion with members of the Dominican family – in fact, with countless Christians around the world who share this timeless practice.  And there is a richness is knowing we pray with the very psalms that Jesus prayed with when He walked the earth.  Through our prayer we dare to trust our ability to touch the world’s great suffering with God’s great compassion. 

Choir stalls with Divine Office prayer books at St. Meinrad's Archabbey (photo: Rhonda Miska)

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Beginnings - by Gina Scaringella

A month has passed since Rhonda and I arrived at the Collaborative Dominican Novitiate (CDN), and what a full month it has been! In August, we traveled to Ruma, Illinois, to see the eclipse. Next, we were off to Kentucky to see the “Holy Land,” where so much history of US women’s religious life resides. And we have just returned from Springfield, where we visited the Motherhouse, the Lincoln Museum and Library, and Jubilee Farm. We welcomed a panel of guests to dialogue with us about prayer, heard more about prayer from Fr. Don Goergen, OP, and even talked about prayer earlier this week during a house meeting. Yes, prayer, one of the four pillars of Dominican life, is essential enough to warrant discussion at a house meeting that also featured such practical topics as the calendar for the next two months and which sisters have an AAA membership! It can be tempting for busy novices like Rhonda and me to put personal prayer on the back burner when homework, classes, house chores, ministry, communal meals, communal prayer, travel, house meetings, and other commitments fill our days. But for us at the CDN, as for all who hope to live and preach the Gospel, personal prayer is indispensable. Time and again, we are called to know (and to live!) this truth. A primary purpose of this year is to grow in our lives of prayer, so that prayer will become the bedrock of the rest of our lives.

Rhonda and I have both begun our ministries—she as a teaching assistant at Marian Middle School, and I as an English-language tutor for a young immigrant woman. We've begun classes at Aquinas Institute. Both our Vowed Life class and Foundations of Preaching class have inspired dinner-table conversation and reflection on life, relationships, and ministry.
We've met our novice peers and their directors at the Inter-Community Novitiate (ICN), a carefully designed collaboration of various orders and congregations who come together weekly to share the formation journey. We’ve heard that ICN has been a highlight for previous novices, and we look forward to walking the path of discernment with this new community.

This blog entry, which lists only some of our many activities, demonstrates the fullness of our days. But our days are not the only things that are full! Our mailboxes (literal and electronic) are full, thanks to our sisters at home as well as family and friends. Because of your faithfulness, our hearts are full, too. We thank you, we hold you in prayer, and we send our love!