The Liturgy of the Sleep-Deprived Hours

In early April we welcomed our son George to the family, and amidst a flurry of changes to our daily and nightly schedule, one thing has remained consistent: we’re tired. Very very tired.

But the other great consistency is that I’ve tried to pray the Liturgy of the Hours, or the Divine Office every day. This ancient prayer of the church, one of the best kept secrets of the spiritual life, has provided a still place in the storm of a new baby’s arrival. And, I might add, it has helped remind me what day or night it is while I traverse the sleep-deprived fog that is my waking hours.

The psalms and Gospel canticles provide a fitting way to begin your day with praise and end your day with grateful reflection. And I’m always comforted knowing that millions of people are praying the same prayers with me all over the world.

But the greatest joy has been praying the Divine Office with my sons. I started by praying Morning and Evening Prayer while holding my newborn. There’s something beautiful about giving thanks to God through the ancient songs while holding new life in my hands. I also have an app on my phone called iBreviary, which makes it easy to pray the Office when the lights are low, your hands are full, and you can’t be bothered to search through a book.

My older son, William Francis, always asks that I stay in his room at night after we read stories and say our prayers. I used to pray Evening Prayer silently next to him, his breath setting the rhythm, until recently I started praying out loud so he could listen to my voice as he falls asleep.

But I was surprised, as usual, about how much he absorbs. During one evening prayer, the Antiphon (or short chant said throughout the psalm) was “Peace be with you; it is I, do not be afraid. Alleluia,” from Jesus’ first resurrection appearance to the apostles. I recited it several times over the course of Evening Prayer, finished the prayer as he fell asleep, kissed him on his forehead, and left the room.

The next evening I was surprised when the antiphon was different (but ended in Alleluia) and a little squeaky voice interrupted me. “Don’t be scared, Allelulia.”

“What?” I responded. I had never heard him say Alleluia before.

“You’re doing the wrong prayer,” he said. “It’s s’posed to say, don’t be scared, alleluia. Is that the one, daddy?”

So he got it, heard it, and translated it so he could understand it. So Bill and I have a new tradition. At the end of each prayer we boil it all down to this: “Don’t be scared, Alleluia.”

That’s also what taking time to pray several times each day has taught me, and maybe that’s one of the great graces of the Liturgy of the Hours. As you consecrate time itself to our loving God, you begin to find a pattern, a rhythm of life within what appears to be chaos. And as you pray more and more, an underlying ordering unity, a logos begins to reveal itself. All things pass, but the river of life, the day to night, the winter to spring, flows on uninterrupted before the eternal God.

There’s this beautiful scene in the film “Tree of Life” in which the lives of two parents with 3 boys unfolds with Smetana’s Moldau setting the rhythm. It’s fitting, a song about a river flowing playing as the rhythm of the young family’s life unfolds: bedtime, baths, nights and days pass by.

“The days are long but the time is short,” as my wife always says.

And it must be a grace from God to be able to acknowledge all of that, all the messiness of the present and uncertainty of the future, and say, peacefully:

“Don’t be scared, Alleluia.”

For more information on praying the Liturgy of the Hours, check out the iBreviary app or Divine Office website.

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