FROM THE CURATE’S HOUSE: In 1971, my family went to see the film Fiddler on the Roof. The songs became a soundtrack to my early childhood, with my dad, the Cotswolds vicar humming “yubby dibby dibby dibby dibby dum” as he went about the parish. One song has stayed with me more than the others, though:
“Sunrise, sunset, sunrise, sunset, swiftly flow the days.
Seedlings turn overnight to sunflowers, blossoming even as we gaze.”
It is the song of the men around the marriage canopy at Tzeitel and Motel’s wedding. It speaks very deeply to the rhythms at the heart of our lives. Even the longest span of time in our experience is made up of the same building blocks. We live lives day by day. Sunrise, sunset. It’s an ancient, inescapable rhythm. The dawns and morning comes. The dusk and evening comes.
People of faith in every culture have added the cadence of prayer to this rhythm of the day. It can be seen in the monastic tradition that embodies the psalmist’s words “seven times a day I praise you” with a pattern of prayer at turning points throughout the day, from before sunrise, to late evening. This same cadence is woven in the Anglican tradition of “morning prayer” and “evening prayer” from the Book of Common Prayer, which has been extended by the materials in Common Worship Daily Prayer, which gives us “prayer during the day” and “night prayer” resources as well. Out of this kaleidoscope come the immense varieties of prayer that individuals and communities adopt and adapt for themselves. Examples can be seen on the parish website, at http://iffley.co.uk/worship/prayer.
Research reported in German magazine Geo Wissen showed that in an average lifetime, an adult will spent an equal amount of time praying and kissing – two weeks for each activity. In comparison, the average time spent in doctors’ waiting rooms is three months. Quite a different picture from the one St Paul paints for his friends in Thessalonika when he tells them “rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances.” Third century writer Origen’s solution is that if we combine prayer with the tasks of the day, and tasks of the day with prayer then the instruction to pray without ceasing becomes possible. In this way “we can say that the whole life of the saint is one mighty integrated prayer.” This means we can reclaim that time in the doctors’ waiting room, and countless other holy moments throughout the day.
“Forty Days of Summer” is a booklet of prayers that we have compiled to use this summer. You can pick up a copy in Church. Designed for mornings, the booklet offers a form of “prayer during the day” from Common Worship. We will be using this to pray together as a parish in church at 9.30am Mondays to Thursdays, and there is also the beloved Friday Prayer & Toast in the vestry at 7.30am on Fridays. The booklet can be used at home and on holiday as well.
“Time spent in prayer is never wasted,” Francois de Fenelon reassures us. With a wise balance between the times which we set aside and the times which arise unplanned, we become people formed and reshaped by the rhythm of prayer, seedlings turning to sunflowers, sunrise, sunset, day by day.