A Review of In Constant Prayer by Robert Benson
2008, Thomas Nelson, Inc.
It is not surprising that the book under review is about prayer. But it is not simply about prayer in general. I have a lot of those books on my shelf. None of them has intrigued me as much as this one. As the author says on the first page of his first chapter, “This is a book about the most ancient practice of Christian prayer, a way of prayer known as the daily office.” On page 9 he writes:
“In the simplest terms, the daily office is a regular pattern and order for formal worship and prayer that is offered to God at specific times throughout the course of the day. Each set of the prayers, known as an office, is made up of psalms, scriptures, and prayers. It is the sort of prayer that is most often associated with monastic communities and the more liturgical and sacramental parts of the church.”
No wonder I haven’t been familiarized with this kind of praying. For those of us who grew up in the tradition of the Restoration movement, anything regarded as formalized was disdained. Certainly anything perceived as Catholic was abandoned. Free expression in prayer along with encouragements to pray daily is what I learned. And there’s certainly nothing wrong with that.
But the author makes a point that is of great interest to me. These prayers have been offered up for thousands of years by God’s people, but sometime during the past 500 years Protestants have abandoned the practice. The idea of praying certain prayers at certain times of the day is still practiced by some religions, but on the whole Christianity has moved beyond the prayer that sustained it for millennia. Benson writes, “The tradition of saying the daily office has languished for so long that many of us have barely heard of it, if at all, and not many of us know what these hours of prayer involve” (p. 29).
Psalm 119:164 says, “Seven times a day I praise you for your righteous laws.” And it appears this was taken literally. Benson leaves room for our modern lifestyles, pleading for some regimentation in our prayer lives.
I want to write more in this review, perhaps tomorrow. I would be interested in hearing from those of you who pray the daily office. What prayer book do you use? What rhythm do you practice? What characterizes your prayer space? And if you are totally opposed to the daily office, let us know why.
Thanks for reading,