Why Lauds is good for me

Silvery light shimmering img_22521through myriads of branches.  The full moon magnified on the western horizon.  Bitter cold.  The crunch of my boots along the crusty ice I make my way to the convent for Lauds before dawn.

I have heard monks and nuns say, “I HAD to be a religious.  I couldn’t discipline myself to pray any other way.”  What they don’t say in this self-efacing admission, is that they possess or somehow acquired the poverty of spirit to value prayer.  Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.”  The New English Bible translates this beatitude, “How blest are they who know their need of God, the kingdom of heaven is theirs.”

I don’t always show up at Lauds.  But because we have Eucharist right after Lauds and being the only priest here at the moment, I need to be there early anyway.  But I show up out of good form rather than any genuine perception of my need to praise God.  I show up for my respect for the sisters who have already put in a half hour of silent meditation BEFORE Lauds.

I do intend to pray first thing every morning.  I begin well.  As soon as I sit up in bed I make the sign of the cross on my lips and say, “open my lips O Lord, and my mouth shall proclaim your praise.”  That’s been my practice since the age of twenty-two. I make coffee, and then… if I stumble toward my computer before lectio, thinking I’m being efficient to get a few emails out of the way, I frequently get caught in the tasks demanded by the emails, or find myself diverted by headlines.  (To give myself some credit, it’s been my habit for twenty five years always to check the news headlines before celebrating Eucharist.  It avoids the pastoral complications of not knowing news  already pressing heavily on a congregation.  Here, the sisters have checked their computers even before silent meditation and Lauds … so they already know weather, the night’s crises, and bring the burdens of the world into their intentions for morning prayer.)

The word “Lauds” comes from Middle English laudes (plural), from the Medieval Latin, plural of laud-, laus = praise.  icetrees31The office of Lauds (not counting Matins which occurs in the middle of the night and not observed in this convent – teaching and running schools for children made Matins an imprudent burden) is the first of the canonical hours of the day.  Lauds consists of psalms with antiphons, scripture sentences, traditional monastic hymns, canticles (often heart breakingly gorgeous), the Benedictus with seasonal antiphons, and a collect. 

When I chant Lauds with the sisters, I know it’s good for me.  Lauds orders priorities.  Just getting there in the biting cold already puts the body in the right posture.  “Open my lips O Lord” is only one phrase from Psalm 51 which is almost always part of Lauds.  We sing Psalm 63 reminding us of our desperate thrist for God.  The office creschendos as we sing the Laudate psalms – the last few psalms of the Psalter.

The Benedictus (Zechariah’s ecstatic prophecy when gets his voice back nine months after his encounter with Gabriel – Luke 1:68-79) calls me personally.  And you, my child, ..will go before the Lord to prepare his way, to give his people knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of their sins.  In the tender compassion of our God the dawn from on high shall break upon us, to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace. 

This is about the time I wake up.   My daily conversion, my response to the call to be faithful, unfolds gently, subtly, compellingly from this text.  Everything I’m called to do today, if I am faithful to my vocation, is expressed in this father’s commission to his baby son, John.  The church sings this canticle for me, for us.  And YOU, my child … 

At this point, the sisters have already been praying in the chapel for an hour.  Someone rings the Angelus, and we begin the Eucharist.

The Rebbe of Tsanz was asked by a Chasid: What does the Rabbi do before praying?  I pray, was the reply, that I may be able to pray properly.

When I don’t go to Lauds, I lose the capacity to remember who I am, I misplace my priorities, trip clumsily over the day’s challenges. Everything I do takes longer and seems harder. It’s worth making my way through the darkness upon the icy paths, to praise God, and wake up.

(photos by Sr. Catherine Grace)

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One Response to “Why Lauds is good for me”

  1. renata terase Says:

    i HAD to be a religious…that is funny but the one thing, everyone blessed enough to be close to or living within a religious community…at least its the norm to BE PRAYING…out here in the secular world, you have to hide and feel embarrassed, fearful shame just to tell people youre going to pray! drinking is acceptable. praying is very strange and church…even weirder! its nuts out here. keep up the good work and pray from your heart.

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