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Liturgical prayer and new shoes

shoesI regularly receive emails asking for help with the details of liturgical prayer. I received one today from someone starting praying the Liturgy of the Hours. This person needed very specific, detailed, page by page, line by line assistance.

I recently bought some new shoes (image right). Generally I wear very comfortable shoes (left) – but I was going to a formal ball, and my daughter was going to be present also, so… The shoes felt tight, but the shop assistant insisted they were the correct size. Two hours in and I had a beautiful blister on each heel! All I was conscious of was the shoes – where they hurt, where they pinched.

Earlier in the year my family had bought me new slippers (centre). The ones I had worn for years and years and years were beyond the pale. Yet these new ones seemed too tight – not at all comfortable. I worried they had the wrong size.

I have been teaching my son to drive. Luckily it is not a manual car: indicate, check road, check mirror, slow, clutch in, change down, clutch out, break, accelerate around the corner… I drove trucks once. Have you ever double declutched? Accelerator off, clutch in, out of gear into neutral, clutch out, accelerate and slow accelerator, clutch in, change gear, clutch out, accelerate…

My slippers are now as comfortable as the previous ones. The new shoes – well I took them to a little shoe shop and he softened the heel and stretched one point. They aren’t as comfortable yet as my daily shoes – but when I wear them I’m not really conscious of them. When I drive I don’t even think about changing gears, or the details of driving – I’m just conscious of the traffic, and enjoying the scenery, and conscious where I’m going.

When I pray the Office, or any liturgical prayer, yes – occasionally there’s a pause to check a detail, a particular saint, or memorial, or festival change – but mostly I’m not conscious of the details and it is a vehicle for prayer – common prayer. Like the shoes, the slippers, the driving, we start very conscious of the mechanics, the novelty, we feel where it pinches, feels different and strange. I encourage those new or early on in the liturgical journey – trust those of us who have been on this journey longer. This is a style of praying that will nourish you throughout your life, at every stage and context and situation. You are part of the way Christians have prayed for 2,000 years and back beyond that into our Jewish roots. You are part of the prayer of the whole church. It may appear strange at the start, artificial, contrived even. But remember the parable of the shoes, the slippers, and double declutching! In time you too will find this style of prayer as comfortable as old, well-loved slippers.

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