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Last Tuesday my local clergy book club met.  We discussed Sara Maitland’s new(ish) book: ‘A Book of Silence’.  We were not overly impressed.  We though she was approaching the subject of silence in a far too academic a way – and was sometimes confusing it with ‘solitude’.  For example, she writes that she had spent some time alone in the Sinai desert reading the Sayings of the Desert Fathers – we all felt she should have left the book behind and tried to read the silence itself!

However. Three of us (out of six) had attended a meeting last September addressed by Fr Laurence Freeman, a Benedictine monk who now heads up the late John Maine’s ‘World Community for Christian Meditation’, and he had much more powerful stuff to say about silence. 

The current welcome page of the WCCM website has the following picture:

lfcushion091A meditation mat and cushion, a Buddhist ‘singing’ bowl (chime) and striker, a watch, and, by coincidence, a copy of my latest discovery: ‘Benedictine Daily Prayer – A Short Breviary’ produced by St John’s Abbey, Collegeville, Minnesota (ISBN 1-85607-495-1 The Columba Press, Dublin).

As someone who has struggled for the last thirty years or more to find the ‘right’ form of daily office (- I know, a desperate situation to be in!-) this comes very close to fitting the bill.  For the last few years I have been juggling with two forms: ‘The Divine Office’ (the official UK RC version) and ‘Daily Prayer’ (the Church of England’s Common Worship version).  Both have much to offer.

I have used ‘The Divine Office’ for most of my thirty years and love the flexible arrangement, the Grail Psalms, the ‘all-in-oneness’ of the book – but sometimes find some of the non-scriptural readings a bit heavy, some of the ‘incidentals’ (antiphons, responses, etc) a bit ‘unreconstructed’, and the intercessions often dire (although in great variety!).  ‘Daily Prayer’, on the other hand, is a bit more ‘self-conscious’, almost as if it were trying too hard to be an office book, certainly very ‘wordy’, very uptight, as it were.  It also involves at least three books (office book, bible and lectionary – four if you want more that half a dozen hymns!) and a lot of page flipping.  But I am an Anglican…

‘Benedictine Daily Prayer’ is one book, Grail Psalms, two scriptural readings in the night office (all NRSV), only occasional patristic readings, traditional office hymns (albeit in a modern translation), re-written antiphons and responses, and even the occasional Anglican feast day to supplement the Benedictine Calendar.  It is a joy to use.  I recommend it.

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