My intention was be be very organized this year and I am on track for that. But being organized is not an end to itself but a means to an end, that end being more time to spend on things I love. I also want to develop my practice. To combine these goals I have decided to create my own version of a Book of Hours. I have always found the old illuminated manuscripts beautiful since my first exposure to one of the most famous and best preserved, the Tres Riches Heures de Duc du Berry. This was also my introduction to the Book of Hours and I am fascinated by them as both books and as tools for living,
The origin of the Book of Hours lies in the Old Testament Book of Psalms which formed the Psalter, the main devotional text as far back as the seventh century. Due to the time and expense involved in hand copying texts, illustrating and binding pages, even the churches often had only a Book of Gospels, rather than a full Bible. In early medieval monasteries and cloisters, monks and nuns were required to recite the Psalter. In chapter sixteen of the rule of St Benedict, the founder of the Benedictine order instructs “That sacred number of seven will be fulfilled by us if we perform the Offices of our service at the time of the Morning Office [Lauds], of Prime, of Terce, of Sext, of None, of Vespers and of Compline, since it was of these day Hours that [the Psalmist] said, “Seven times a day do I praise thee.” [Psalm 119: 164]
This cycle eventually expanded to a more complex system set forth in the breviary. While the name comes from the same Latin root word as brief, the breviaries, rather than brief, were a very detailed order of offices for the entire year, with weekly cycles of psalms, prayers, hymns, antiphons, and readings which changed with the season. This system of hours began with the three part vigil prayer service, held on the eve of a feast day, which became the canonical hours Vespers, Matins, and Lauds, starting with Vespers in the early evening and ending with Lauds in the early morning. Still later, Matins was split into three divisions known as nocturns. In the monasteries monks prayed Matins during the night and said Lauds (morning prayer) in the early dawn, then went back to bed. Later they added Prime as a prayerful way to start their days work when they rose again, Vespers were actually said in very late afternoon, often at sunset, and then at bedtime there came Compline. Terse, Sexte and None were the mid-morning, noon time and mid-afternoon offices. These varied in details depending on which office was being read, which day of the week or which liturgical season, far too complicated for anyone whose whole life was not structured around it, like a monk or nun. By the thirteenth century there was a desire among the literate aristocracy and merchant classes for a devotional guide they could use, thus came the Book of Hours.
The the medieval day began in the middle of the night. just as ours does, at midnight. In accordance with [Psalm 119: 62] “At midnight I will rise to give thanks unto thee.”, Matins and it’s three nocturnes actually begin the day. Dawn, a traditional time for prayer in many cultures and faiths was marked by Lauds In summer, when the nights were very short, Lauds might follow Matins very closely. These offices were often not practical for lay people and were even adjusted in the monasteries according to the season. While the medieval world could adjust to the seasons and the length of day even in matters of God, try to get such flexibility in the modern era and see how far you will get.
A Book of Hours usually began with a calendar showing saint’s days and other feasts. Then came excerpts from each of the offices for the Virgin Mary , two sets of psalms, the Litany of Saints, an invocation to God and the saints, the Office for the Dead, the Hours of the Cross and other prayers in different places and times. I am not trying to copy a medieval book of hours as it was centuries ago for myself however. I want to bring the idea of a constancy of practice and mindfulness into my life in a way I will relate to and use. A calendar is still a good place for me to start. Moon phases and astronomical events, holidays and time changes all play their part in my life. Certainly there will be a theme for each day if not a saint. I may not break for every one of the canonical hours but I am very much a morning person and it is no hardship to be up before dawn. So I will have my personal version of Lauds. It is a good time to set an intention for the day, which will include my Reiki creed. “For today only” is an approach that can work for anyone, for any practice they are trying to cultivate, for any habit they are trying to break or instill.
Prime would be the time I start work with a bit of quiet to plan my time in a calm, oderly fashion. Terce may be My mid-morning coffee break turned into a contemplative moment can become the equivalent of Terce. Time spent in gratitude and appreciation of a light and healthy lunch stands in for Sexte. Tea time can be blended into Nones and a time to reflect on any small tasks of the day not yet done. Sunset will mark Vespers as it always has, and depending on the season, it will accompanying the preparation or the enjoyment of dinner. Compline will be the time in evening when I do my daily Reiki of myself and the cats and do my closing meditaion. This guarantees a deep and restful sleep and enables me to rise easily when the cats, my natural and gentle alarm clocks, demand I get up and service their hungry stomachs.
I will also include a place to annotate and observe weather phenomenon like first frost or notable storms. Perhaps I will borrow a little from the Old Farmer’s Almanac. That Books of Hours can be used for more than the traditional religious routine is not an idea original to me, others have done it. One I am fond of is the Book of Golf, pictured at left. So many things could potentially be included, it will be an enjoyable if complex undertaking and while initially I will not take the time to do calligraphy and illumination, I think I can use my long neglected artist skills to make it attractive as well as useful. After all, January is passed quickly and soon February will be as well.