In 1971, my family went to see the film Fiddler on the Roof. The songs became a soundtrack to my early childhood, with my dad, the Cotswolds vicar humming “yubby dibby dibby dibby dibby dum” as he went about the parish. One song has stayed with me more than the others, though: “Sunrise, sunset, sunrise, sunset, swiftly flow the days. Seedlings turn overnight to sunflowers, blossoming even as we gaze.”
It is the song of the men around the marriage canopy at Tzeitel and Motel’s wedding. It speaks very deeply to the rhythms at the heart of our lives. Even the longest span of time in our experience is made up of the same building blocks. We live lives day by day. Sunrise, sunset. It’s an ancient, inescapable rhythm. The dawns and morning comes. The dusk and evening comes.
People of faith in every culture have added the cadence of prayer to this rhythm of the day. It can be seen in the monastic tradition that embodies the psalmist’s words “seven times a day I praise you” with a pattern of prayer at turning points throughout the day, from before sunrise, to late evening. This same cadence is woven in the Anglican tradition of “morning prayer” and “evening prayer” from the Book of Common Prayer, which has been extended by the materials in Common Worship Daily Prayer, which gives us “prayer during the day” and “night prayer” resources as well. Out of this kaleidoscope come the immense varieties of prayer that individuals and communities adopt and adapt for themselves.
Research reported in German magazine Geo Wissen showed that in an average lifetime, an adult will spent an equal amount of time praying and kissing – two weeks for each activity. In comparison, the average time spent in doctors’ waiting rooms is three months. Quite a different picture from the one St Paul paints for his friends in Thessalonika when he tells them “rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances.” Third century writer Origen’s solution is that if we combine prayer with the tasks of the day, and tasks of the day with prayer then the instruction to pray without ceasing becomes possible. In this way “we can say that the whole life of the saint is one mighty integrated prayer.” This means we can reclaim that time in the doctors’ waiting room, and countless other holy moments throughout the day.
FORTY DAYS OF SUMMER is a booklet of prayers compiled for use at any time of the day during the summer. Use it individually or as a household, or maybe form a triplet for the summer. Use it at home and on holiday. The resources are gathered into five collections, each with the same shape and pattern, but drawing on different themes and sources. The collections are based around each of the verses of the hymn BE THOU MY VISION. Each day’s notes begin with praise and verses from the Psalms. This is followed by a time of silence before we offer God the life of the day that has been and the day that is ahead. There is a scripture and reflection on the hymn verse, and ideas for intercessions.
Our reflections this summer are about vocation and vacation, the twin callings in our lives to be people of service and to be people of Sabbath. Further resources and background materials are available each day at this website, where you can subscribe to receive the whole devotion daily by email. By signing up, you will be able to add comments online, suggest other materials and take a part in the community of those sharing these Forty Days of Summer together.
“Time spent in prayer is never wasted,” Francois de Fenelon reassures us. With a wise balance between the times which we set aside and the times which arise unplanned, we become people formed and reshaped by the rhythm of prayer, seedlings turning to sunflowers, sunrise, sunset, day by day.
The Forty Days run from Tuesday 23-July to Saturday 31-August. And there’s even chance to join together for a celebration breakfast on the final day (details in due course).