Have you ever gone swimming in a river? I have and its quite an experience. During high school my youth group went white water canoeing in many of the rivers of Wisconsin. And of course being in a canoe also meant being in the water. There were times when the canoe tipped over and we ended up in the drink. There were other times, when the water level was very low, when I would have to jump out of the canoe into the water and push the canoe, carrying my girl friend through the worst parts of rapids. Naturally there were other times when the whole group jumped into the water for the very joy of it.
There's something about swimming in a river that's different than swimming in a lake or pool. The difference is the current. At times the current may be quite sluggish. You can take your time drifting over the waters, jump in and swim, or dig in your paddle to push your way ahead. There are other times, such as one I remember when I think about canoeing over a small waterfall, when the exhilaration of the moment sends your spirit soaring. And there are times when you must frantically fight your way past the rocks of the rapids and/or end up thrown into the water.
When I came to St. Benedict's Abbey, I experienced monastic prayer for the first time. For thousands of years women and men have gathered in their oratories (that means chapel for most of the rest of us). At the same times every day they have prayed to God and raised their voices in song to praise their Creator. The monastic use of the Psalms extends this prayer back through our connection to Judaism to connect with all those who followed God before the time when our Lord walked the earth. When our bodies have returned to dust and our souls to God, monastics will still be praying the same prayers we pray now at the same times we now pray.
To me, this prayer is a river. The current of voices raised in prayer started long before my parents parents parents walked the earth. And it will extend far, far into the future. When I join in praying the daily office of prayer, whether I am at the abbey or at home, I find myself entering that river. If I let myself feel it, I sense a joining into a rhythm that really is not connected to time. It flows from creation to our reunion with our Creator.
There are times in this river of prayer where I feel soul leaping toward God in delight. At other times I plod and try to push myself forward through times that are stagnant. Or perhaps I simply rest in the quiet and enjoy my time with God. In bad times, in prayer I feel God pushing me ahead and sheltering me from the rocks in my life. Of course there are also times when I feel my life has tipped over and I reach out to my Savior for help.
Today, many who are seeking a way for their Spirit, are looking for something timeless; something that has been before them and will be after them; something both awesome in power and delicate in touch. If that someone is you, I suggest you explore the tradition of praying the hours of prayer. You can try it on your own, but to really experience it I suggest you check out a nearby Benedictine convent or monastery. There you will find the river running from the Creator's heart. May you be blessed in the wonder and delight of it's waters.