Loud purring wakes me. The cat has taken on the role of hermitage alarm clock. Opening one eye, I see him staring, and can imagine him saying, "Benedicite!" in good monastic fashion. Sending a sleepy thought heavenward, I mutter, "Deo gratias..." then begin to drift back to sleep. This earns me a pat on the face from an impatient paw. So rolling out of bed, I make my way to the bathroom, shower and dress. Then, gazing out the kitchen window, silently greeting the wildlife in the backyard, I absently munch on a soy protein breakfast bar and the cat nibbles his breakfast.
As my brain begins to simulate human functioning, my first task is the first of four Daily Offices. The Daily Office is, primarily, a practical program for reading the Bible. If you do it daily, you end up reading the entire Bible, in short daily doses, over the course of two years. Morning Prayer is the longest of the four, with two Bible readings, two canticles, and additional prayers. Sitting at my computer and tuning it to the Mission St. Clare website, I find the day's readings and prayers neatly laid out. I keep silence for a minute, to focus my attention, then begin.
The Office is not my favorite part of my practice. I don't always connect with the readings; sometimes I catch myself skimming over the words without paying attention, as my mind wanders to the day's tasks, or other things. I found that using my body in worship improves my attention. For one thing, most of the Office I will say silently, but certain portions I will sing. At first, I felt a bit self-conscious singing alone, but eventually it began to feel more natural. Sitting for most of the Office, I stand to sing, and at one or two other significant points. Using my body for worship is important.
As I begin to chant, I do my best to appreciate the words of the psalm. Often the psalms will resonate with me, when they are the words of an ancient whose spiritual journey resembled mine in some way. Today's psalm does not particularly connect, but I never know when some bit of text will leap out at me and capture my imagination, so I stay open to the possibility. The first Bible reading is better, since it contains the words to a famous aria from Handel's Messiah: "Rejoice greatly, o daughter of Zion..." Impossible to read it without thinking the music. I read each lesson slowly, focusing my attention on each thought.
I always take time at Morning Prayer for intercessions. For me, this does not mean asking God for anything. I simply hold each person in my heart for a few moments, reflecting on God's love for them. I update my list frequently, adding various people to be remembered, some for a time, some always. Ending with a prayer of thanksgiving, I rise.
An hour is set aside for manual work. I am coming to appreciate the physical dimensions of contemplative practice. It is tempting to stay in the chair at the computer all day. But the Holy One intends us to use our bodies, as well as our minds, for praise. Being sedentary does not help me. Manual work for me mostly means housework, as I am still trying to convert my apartment into a proper hermitage. The physical activity, however light, feels good. I try to approach it with an attitude of "divine wakefulness," seeing God in all, no matter how mundane the activity might seem.
After completing a few tasks, I take a short break to check messages online. I do not keep a precisely timed schedule, nor do I always do everything in the same order. Typically I would take an hour or more in the morning for a particular type of reading called Lectio Divina, sometimes known as "praying the reading." But today, email draws me in, and I must start my day's work. I will make time for Lectio a bit later.
I am fortunate to have a good job that allows me to work from home most days, via the Internet. I report to work by signing on to IM and opening my email. I won't come up for air until noon.
The furry hermitage alarm clock rubs my leg to remind me about lunch. I get up to feed him, then return to the computer for the Noonday Office. It is very short, just five minutes; a mid-day reminder of who I am and with whom I am in relationship. It is also an opportunity for self-examination, to get back on the right path if I have gotten off it during the morning.
At the end of the Noonday Office I always take time for centering prayer, or some other form of contemplative prayer. This is easily the most significant part of my practice, to me. To sit in silence, alone with the Alone, is the greatest joy I know. It might be anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour. I crave it. I always feel wonderful afterward.
And hungry. Sliced roast chicken, steamed vegetables and a little brown rice provide a pleasant break. I allow myself a short bit of free time after lunch, before returning to my work.
The afternoon's work is briefly interrupted by a knock on the door. I order my groceries off the Internet, and the delivery is here. The UPS guy is right behind him, delivering cat food, also ordered off the Internet. I reflect momentarily on the fact that except for walking a few yards to my mailbox, I rarely leave my apartment on most days. I am content in my solitude.
The Office provides for the sanctification of time. It is time to mark the transition from day to night with Evensong, the most beloved of the Offices in the Anglican tradition. Although I only sing the plainsong versions of the Magnificat, my mind often is drawn to the many wonderful musical settings I have sung in the past. I may be sitting at my computer, in my small apartment, but it is easy to close my eyes and remember the times I sang these words in the great choir of a cathedral. I know that as I sing and pray, all around the world countless Anglicans are doing the exact same thing I am doing, whether alone, or in small groups, or in great cathedrals with glorious music. I feel connected to them all.
At the conclusion of Evening Prayer, I spend a few minutes simply being aware of the silence. Except for sung prayers, and a handful of words with the delivery guys, I will not have spoken today (though I will have emailed). I am content with that. I relish it. The silence allows me to listen with the ears of my heart.
After a light supper, I go back for Lectio. I have not spent as much time at study today as I would have liked, but there was no help for it. Today I am reading the Spiritual Canticle by John of the Cross. Its rich imagery fires my imagination and propels my heart toward my Lover, the Lover of Souls. Suddenly a sense of being loved washes over me so strongly that tears come to my eyes.
A little more light manual work (in this case, laundry) and then free time for the evening. Most likely I will use the time on the Internet. I write to friends, other Solitaries, others who work from their homes as I do; we support one another, while understanding each other, and the place of our relationships relative to our one, primary relationship. No matter what I do, it always seems to offer an opportunity to recognize God's presence, and his love.
The day draws to a close with Compline, a brief but beautiful way to mark the passage of time. I am especially fond of the chants and prayers for Compline. In this time, I feel that I am held close, and loved.
With this thought, I sleep, at peace.