Occasionally I manage to get back into the habit of praying one or more of the Hours -- rarely regularly. Office of Readings one day in the morning; the thankfully short and repetitive Compline another day when I've already stayed up too late and am really too tired to concentrate. Sometimes on a feast day I manage the daytime hours.
Office of Readings is my favorite because it has something new for me every day, even though it's long and I feel like I'm cheating by doing it instead of Lauds, which I feel like I "should" be doing.
(I've been a little more inspired lately thanks to this book, by the way. Highly, highly recommended, and not just for "beginners." Will probably write more about it another time.)
So, anyway, one really great thing about praying the Liturgy of the Hours is that you sink right into the Psalms. Each one comes around again every couple of weeks or so (less often if you come to the Hours all haphazardly like I do), which over the course of months and years gives you plenty of time both to be exposed to lots of psalms, and to let the repetitiveness gently impress them upon your mind and heart. There's always something new there.
Today in Ps. 31 we encounter the fairly-common-psalm-theme of "I'm surrounded by enemies who are out to get me!" which sometimes seems a little overwrought to comfortable and fattened moderns as ourselves.
In your justice, set me free, hear me and speedily rescue me....
Release me from the snares they have hidden...
In the face of all my foes I am a reproach, an object of scorn to my neighbors and of fear to my friends...
I have heard the slander of the crowd... as they plot together against me...
And I'm a little leery of sinking too deeply into this theme of "enemies." Possibly a bit risky, lest we start thinking of "people who merely disagree with me" or "people who mildly annoy me" as "enemies who are out to get me" in our prayer.
But one modern interpretation came to me, an idea of "enemies" that works (for me in this season of life at least): All those chattering faceless voices that bring distasteful news into my home, that peddle outrage and Schadenfreude. The tearing of hair out over petty matters not worthy of attention; and, more insidious, the repeated indignation over grave matters, murmuring the conscience to sleep, spending outrage in cheap declarations of position, ever calling to action, never acting.
There are real people on the other side of those combox handles and bylines. Let's not forget that. Some of them may not know what they do. If they met us in the street they might be perfectly pleasant. Some of them claim to be allies, fellow believers. But make no mistake, they are out there, enemies and quislings.
Release me from the snares they have hidden, for you are my refuge, Lord.
Snares of despair and outrage.
O God of truth, you detest those who worship false and empty gods. As for me, I trust in the Lord; let me be glad...
Let me be glad; not angry, irritated, snide, or superior.
You have seen my affliction and taken heed of my soul's distress, have not handed me over to the enemy, but set my feet at large.
We are not, in fact, in prison to the unhappy state of the world today (nor the state of the country, nor the state of the Church). We are at large. We are free to act real acts, in our seemingly tiny sphere of home and work and friendships, where each act and word can have unimaginable consequences.
I have heard the slander of the crowd... but as for me, I trust in You, Lord...
My life is in your hands, deliver me from the hands of those who hate me.
Look, some of the voices you encounter out there... the ones that make you feel shame... they really do hate you. Hate you for not buying enough stuff. Sneer at you for having too many children. Tear you down lest you feel pleased in the decisions you've made that are different from others. Mock you so you'll feel inadequate without the snakeoil they're selling. Nobody does negging like someone who wants your money or your vote.
How great is the goodness, Lord,... that you show to those who trust you in the sight of men.
You hide them in the shelter of your presence from the plotting of men; you keep them safe within your tent from disputing tongues.
I often wonder what it means to "trust in the Lord," which we're so often told to do without much practical advice on how to do it, and I think there might be a bit of a clue here in this description.
To trust in the Lord is, perhaps, not to let "the plotting of men" worry you; to remind yourself constantly that the advertisers and the policymakers are not, actually, in charge.
To trust in the Lord is to draw strength and protection from His Presence (his ever-present Presence) rather than be damaged by "disputing tongues."
(I don't think this means we always have to leave every dispute; some disputes are worth having, after all. Truth has to be spoken and sometimes it's us who has to speak it. But we don't have to come to every argument we're invited to just in case.)
Love the Lord, all you saints. He guards his faithful but the Lord will repay to the full all those who act with pride.
The bit about "acting with pride" is maybe a clue as to when we might not want to join in with those "disputing tongues," lest we reduce ourselves to one.
"I am far removed from your sight," I said in my alarm.
Yet you heard the voice of my plea when I cried for help.
In other words, what to do when we realize we've gotten in over our heads.
Be strong, let your heart take courage, all who hope in the Lord.
What is the world coming to, anyway? It is coming to the same end it has been coming to for two thousand years, and today's viral video will not change it, nor tomorrow's.
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Good advice from Augustine in the second reading, too:
Rejoice in the truth, not in wickedness; rejoice in the hope of eternity, not in the fading flower of vanity.
Look out for that "rejoicing in wickedness" bit. The invitation is everywhere, isn't it? Let's not pretend that "rejoicing in wickedness" means "doing wicked things and enjoying it."
It also means "hearing about wicked things and enjoying a sense of smug superiority over those who participate."
Or "hearing about certain people doing and/or saying wicked things and enjoying a sense of satisfaction that they are behaving as I expect them to."
Or "passing along news of wickedness and enjoying the recognition I get for having raised the alarm."
When you catch yourself rejoicing in wickedness, for heaven's sake, stop.
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And one more thought from Augustine:
Wherever you are on earth, however long you remain on earth, the Lord is near, do not be anxious about anything.
That's right, anything!
Don't sweat the small stuff. But don't save your anxiety for the important things! Just... don't be anxious. Be not afraid. Really. That's what all this means.
How are we supposed to do that? We're imperfect. We will feel anxious. We will feel unable to rejoice. But:
Rejoice, brothers: Strive for perfection; encourage one another.
That's today's responsory to Augustine.
Encourage one another.
Encourage one another.
Encourage one another.
Remember that, next combox. Strive for perfection... by encouraging one another.
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This is why I love the Hours. Ancient and ever new.