by Robert Benson
Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2008
In Constant Prayer (The Ancient Practices)
by Robert Benson is the second in the “Ancient Practices” series being edited by Phyllis Tickle for Thomas Nelson Publishers. Benson focuses on the practice of saying the “Daily Office,” a formal series of prayers said at several times during the day. As Tickle states, this is the practice “of interrupting secular time every three hours for the observance of worship time made sacred by prayer.”
I admit that before I read this book, I knew very little about the Daily Office other than what it was. Benson does a good job of explaining the practice, especially the history of fixed hour prayer and the reasons why this practice should continue in our modern world. He extols the value of using formal prayer that isn’t about us at all, but rather about praising God, and the beauty of praying the same prayers that others throughout the world are doing at the same time. He makes all the arguments people offer for not doing the office and then cuts them down. He also includes an example of the Daily Office in an appendix. Having never read it before, I found it beautiful. I do wish that he had offered more guidance as to how to actually say the Daily Office although he does refer the reader to other books.
Benson emphasizes that he is not a theologian and certainly does not have all the answers. He is a writer and a seeker. As such, I think that many will relate to his spiritual journey. I especially enjoyed his chapter, “Lost Between the Daily and the Divine,” in which he explores how learning to pray and praying have much in common with the other work we do in our lives. For example, if one writes, or creates music, a great deal of that craft is sitting down and making yourself do the work. The same holds true of prayer. We learn by doing. As Benson very wisely states, “I do not know if I will ever become a person of prayer. But I do know that there is only one way it will ever happen. People of prayer say their prayers – every day.”
As a Catholic, I found Benson’s discussion of Confession particularly interesting. Saying that one is sorry for one’s sins is part of the Daily Office. Benson speaks of his evangelical upbringing – once saved, always saved, but he acknowledges that the sins keep coming. He goes back to John who states that if we confess our sins, we will be forgiven. He therefore does see the need for this confessing of sin. We all make mistakes. His longing for forgiveness made me realize the value of our Sacrament of Reconciliation even more. There is something to be said for hearing the words “You are absolved of all your sin.”
“In Constant Prayer” is a very insightful work. Whether or not it convinces you to begin praying the “Daily Office,” it will help you realize the value of punctuating one’s day with frequent prayer.