Before we begin with Step One and Morning Prayer on Christmas Day, here’s a little background information about the Daily Office, the 12 Steps, and my plan for this series that you may find helpful.
About the Daily Office
From the beginning, Christians, like their Jewish forebears, have prayed at set times of the day. (See Acts 3:1, for example.)
Over the centuries, and especially with the rise of monastic communities, Christians gathered to pray as often as seven times a day (emulating Psalm 119:164).
That sevenfold monastic pattern was simplified during the Reformation, and in the Church of England became two “offices” of Morning and Evening Prayer.
The Roman Catholic Church may refer to these prayers as the Liturgy of the Hours, the Orthodox Churches may refer to them as divine services or divine offices, and the Episcopal Church (to which I belong) refers to them as the Daily Office.
Whatever differences there may be — in number of services, times of the day, selections from Scripture to be read at certain times — there is a basic pattern to the Daily Office that’s pretty common.
The Psalter – Reading from the Psalms has for centuries been the foundation of daily prayer.
In the Episcopal Church, the 150 psalms are read at Morning and Evening Prayer on a seven-week cycle.
The Lessons – Readings from the Hebrew Bible (or the Old Testament) and from the New Testament are next. In some churches, those readings are relatively short (maybe just a verse or two) and may be called “chapters.”
In the Episcopal Church, we have inherited a tradition of reading a lot of Scripture in the Daily Office. Over the course of two years, we read most of the Old Testament once and the whole New Testament twice.
The schedule of what Psalms and Scripture lessons are to be read on a particular day is called the “lectionary.”
The Prayers – Beginning with the Lord’s Prayer, we pray for our own needs and those of others and we give thanks to God for the blessings we enjoy.
In the Episcopal Church, there are special prayers called “collects” that set themes for every Sunday of the year, for days of the week, and for special occasions. At each office, we commonly read two or three of these collects.
About the 12 Steps
The 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, according to the history timeline on the AA website, date to 1938 and to the early experience of the first members.
They are “a group of principles, spiritual in their nature, which, if practiced as a way of life, can expel the obsession to drink and enable the sufferer to become happily and usefully whole.”
The 12 Steps were codified from the “Big Book” titled Alcoholics Anonymous, which also includes stories sharing members’ experience, strength, and hope.
About this blog
I’ve been praying the Daily Office for about 23 years now, since before my ordination as a deacon in the Episcopal Church, and I’ve been writing and teaching about it for many years.
I’ve only been practicing recovery for a little over two years now, since becoming sober in October 2013.
Three things really stand out for me as I compare the two practices:
The first thing that struck me about AA meetings is the regular reading and re-reading of the Big Book and of the “12 and 12.”
This constant return to the basic texts of AA has a lot in common with the practice of the Daily Office.
Year after year, season after season, week after week, “one day at a time,” the words of the basic texts — Bible or Big Book — soak into your imagination, and you begin a process of incorporating their wisdom into your daily living.
The second thing that I discovered is that both AA and the church talk about similar spiritual practices; we just call them by different names. For example, what AA calls a “daily self-inventory” the church calls “Confession of Sin.”
And third, both practices are done not because you feel like it, but because it’s time to do it.
We pray Morning Prayer each day at 6 am because that’s the time to do it; we go to an AA meeting on Friday evenings because that’s the time to do it. We can enjoy a “daily reprieve contingent on the maintenance of our spiritual condition” (Big Book 85).
The 12 Steps of Christmas
Each day during the 12 Days of Christmas, we will read one of the 12 steps and pray the Daily Office with its psalms and Bible lessons as appointed in the lectionary.
From the resonances between them, perhaps some wisdom will emerge that will help in our “spiritual awakening.”
I look forward to having you join me in the process for the next 12 days, and I invite you to share in the conversation by adding your comments.