My Daily Horarium

A reader of this blog has asked me to comment on my own daily practice, especially in regard to these concerns:

  • Word prayer (litanies and sorts)
  • Rosary prayer
  • Jesus prayer/prayer of the heart
  • Psalm prayer
  • Christian meditation/Centering prayer
  • Daily Office
  • Lectio Divina
  • Participation in the sacramental life of the Church
  • Bible reading
  • Personal study
  • Creative exercises (writing, painting, dancing…)
  • Retreats and quiet days
  • Fasting
  • Waking & vigilance
  • Works of mercy (volunteer work)
  • Devotion to saints/mystics
  • Personal health (diet, exercise, sleep, …)
  • Therapy
  • Spiritual direction

He notes that he has a full-time job, and wryly notes “Of course it is impossible to do everything.”

Well, this will be an exercise in humility, but here goes. First of all, I must make this unequivocal disclaimer: I fail at my personal horarium every day. Let me repeat that: I fail at it every day. I don’t know if this is God’s humorous way of slowly cleansing me of my perfectionism, or my own neurotic insistence on having a rule of life that is beyond my ability (thereby reinforcing my low self-esteem), or some combination thereof. Many years ago I read a book by the Anglo-Catholic theologian Martin Thornton in which he argued that one’s rule of life shouldn’t be too easy. So perhaps I am wise to keep reaching for something that exceeds my grasp. Maybe someday I’ll grow into it (and of course, if that happens, then there’s always the opportunity to take on an even more demanding rule of life).

Because I am in formation as a Lay Cistercian, my way of life is shaped by that community. Each Lay Cistercian community is autonomous, so the following list comes specifically from our group in Conyers:

  • Holy Eucharist. Daily reception of the Holy Eucharist is seen as an expression of our union with Christ and with one another.
  • Liturgy of the Hours. Praying of one or more Hours of the Divine Office each day allows us to participate in the prayer of Christ for His Church.
  • Lectio Divina. To encounter the Word of God we allow a period of at least 20 minutes a day for lectio divina and meditation.
  • Silence and Solitude. As Lay-Cistercians we strive to develop a contemplative dimension within our lives by seeking opportunities for silence and solitude.
  • Devotion to Mary, Our Blessed Mother. We pray the Rosary daily as a devotion to Our Blessed Mother and bring our day to a close by praying the Salve Regina.
  • Special Devotions. Lay-Cistercians have a special devotion to Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament; the Holy Trinity; Our Lady of the Assumption, Patroness of the Cistercians; Saints of the Cistercian Order; as well as personal patrons.
  • The Sacrament of Reconciliation. Lay-Cistercians are encouraged to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation on a monthly basis, or more frequently if desired. This is consistent with living a life of continuous conversion.
  • Community Gathering Days. Lay-Cistercians meet monthly for a day of prayer, study and community sharing. During this time we receive on-going formation from our Spiritual Father(s) which facilitates our endeavor to incorporate contemplative spirituality into our daily lives. Community members are encouraged to seek additional opportunities for prayer and sharing with one another as time and personal circumstance permit.
  • Annual Retreat. The Lay-Cistercian Community spends one weekend each year in a retreat at the monastery. Members are encouraged to schedule additional retreat time throughout the year.
  • Work, Material Goods and Supporting the Church. We strive to approach our work in the world with an attitude of reverence, balance, and thanksgiving. We care for all material goods entrusted to us as gifts from God.
    Lay-Cistercians are encouraged to contribute to the Church and the poor according to their means. When possible, we are associated with the Spiritual and Corporal Works of Mercy of the monastery.

Our community recognizes that nobody lives this out perfectly. Indeed, our spiritual director recently instructed us to change the wording of the line about Holy Eucharist to “daily reception, if possible” — I think he recognizes that there’s no point in feeling guilty about not attending Mass every day.

Indeed, I don’t attend daily Mass. I did it for a few months when I first became a Lay Cistercian (one of the benefits of working at a monastery) but it came with a price. You see, Mass is at 7 AM, which meant I had to leave home at 6:15 — leaving my wife Fran alone to tend to Rhiannon, our special-needs daughter. Most mornings she has a certified nursing assistant come to our home to assist her, but that’s not always the case. And the CNA doesn’t come until 7 AM, which means if for some reason she couldn’t come (or just didn’t show up), Fran would have to attend to Rhiannon’s care all be herself, since I would be 21 miles away by that point. Obviously, while daily Mass might be very spiritually edifying, my family responsibilities come first. And everyone in our community recognizes that.

So perhaps, as we all ponder the question of what our daily horarium should look like, we have to consider it holistically: our spiritual commitments must always be embedded in the totality of our lives, which includes family and work commitments as well. Indeed, for laypersons our family and work commitments are part of our spiritual practice, and it is a mistake not to see this and honor this.

On a similar vein: shortly after I got married, a priest admonished me about getting too involved in social ministry work: “With your stepdaughter, your social ministry is at home.” I think he was concerned that I would neglect my family obligations in the interest of feeding the homeless or some other worthy endeavor. So I very consciously do not take on “works of mercy” outside of my home. Sometimes I feel guilty about that. But my wife and I both expect to engage in volunteer work after our daughter passes away. Once again, our daily practice has to be understood holistically — and we also have to recognize that life has its seasons. A family with small children (or with a handicapped child) has different constraints than a retired couple whose children are gown. There’s no one-size-fits-all spiritual practice. Monasteries and convents can impose a uniform rule, but there are no children or other mitigating factors, and even those communities vary from abbey to abbey.

Okay, with all that in mind, here is my ideal horarium, as it currently stands as of September 2009 (remember, I fail at this every day):

6:00 AM — Lectio Divina
6:20 — Morning Prayer
6:40 — Silent Prayer
7:00 — Exercise
7:30 — Shower, Breakfast
8:30 — Leave for Work
5:45 PM — Evening Prayer
6:05 — Silent Prayer
6:30 — Practice Bass Guitar
7:00 — Dinner, Family Time, Clean-up
8:30 — Free Time: Blogging, Reading, watching a movie with my family
9:50 — Compline

Like I said, I fail at this every day. I’m particularly bad about exercise and about prayer in the evening. But each day is a new opportunity, and by the grace of God, I keep trying to live up to my rule. As one of the monks says, “The monastic life is about falling down and getting back up, falling down and getting back up.” The same holds true for a layperson’s spiritual practice.

Now I know some people might think this kind of a structured daily regimen is distasteful, if not neurotic in its own right. Certainly it goes against the grain of our “if it feels good do it” culture. But to me, budgeting time is like budgeting money. I know from the school of hard knocks that if I don’t watch my money, I spend it frivolously and I’m likely to run up my credit card. Likewise, without a daily horarium, I can get lost in frittering away time on the Internet, or browsing through a bookstore, or some other “fun” activity that doesn’t really nurture me or express my highest and most important priorities. Not that there’s anything wrong with occasionally frittering away time: I think that’s what Sabbath is all about (incidentally, I believe in the importance of Sabbath, and think one day a week we should find ways to waste time creatively, ideally with family or loved ones). Like many educated westerners, I’m something of an information junkie, and have to be careful that I don’t overstimulate that particular bad habit. Also, since I work a five-day work week, this means I also have one day a week that isn’t Sabbath, but also doesn’t involve working outside the home. Such days are ideal for doing bigger chores around the home (mowing the lawn, housecleaning), shopping, and writing. I should also mention that when I’m working on a book, writing and research play a much larger role in my daily life. But currently I’m between books, so my horarium as it stands reflects that smaller role that writing currently has in my life.

So there you go. My daily practice, like pretty much all of me, is a work in progress. I’d love to hear from other people about how you incorporate an intentional spiritual practice into your daily lives.

Sanctity and Struggle, or, Why Saints Have Chaotic Inner Lives (Hint: It's Because We All Do)
In Memoriam: Kenneth Leech
Preliminary Practices for Christian Contemplatives
Happy St. Hildegard's Day!
About Carl McColman

Author of Befriending Silence, The Big Book of Christian Mysticism, Answering the Contemplative Call, and other books. Retreat leader. Speaker. Professed Lay Cistercian.

  • Angela

    Good morning Carl,
    Thank you for the glimpse into the day of a humble soul… It’s fascintating how life’s changes incorporate who we are as individuals and how processing those circumstances reveal the path we choose to live up to those responsibilities. I think you would agree that every moment is a God moment and expanding that conciousness into every day tasks is much more than just ritual habits. I used to thrive on devotion, mass every day,… For a long while it grieved me tremendously that I did not desire to be at Church, but for me allowing the I AM presence to fill me completly leaves me speachless and in a state of pure acceptance.
    Blessings and ever constant peace reign,


  • Jan

    Thanks so much for sharing this…”our spiritual commitments must always be embedded in the totality of our lives, which includes family and work commitments as well. Indeed, for laypersons our family and work commitments are part of our spiritual practice, and it is a mistake not to see this and honor this.”

    As a family with a special needs child plus two other children embedding spiritual commitments into our lives is the only way it will ever work.

    It was comforting to hear you confirm this for us.

  • Bob

    Hello Carl,

    I would think a rule would be easier to follow in a monastic setting knowing you have others dealing with the same issues. It helps to know people are doing the same things you are. I know it is easier to do a church wide fast if you know others are doing it with you. Same thing with your community. Given the fact I’m not in a community (low-church) that practices a rule. I’m left to myself. I could take on more of a rule if I was in a structured community. My wife has her own rule that differs from mine in many ways. Hers is a more outward focused and mine is more contemplative. It is hard in today’s world not to quantify everything even piety. I get obsessed on trying to measure spiritual development. Like finding what part of the Dark Night I’m in. It’s amazing how spirituality can be used for the ego.

    My “rule” has been 10 mins. of silence before the Lord everyday. I’m expanding that to include daily 10 mins of bible Lectio divina. In the past I thought my small rule was an indication of my small love for God. I realize now that may be true but It’s finally OK with me because I’m human and a sinner and also love for God takes many forms besides a narrow rule. You have given me an invitation of a rule that seems to be very challenging. Love of God is a hard one to quantify. Without minutes attached to a rule I can’t feel superior or inferior to someone else. I still love God and He me with or without a rule.

    I would like to still expand my rule in a way that I can and want to do. When it comes to a structured life I immediately feel repulsed. On the other hand I know God can and will eventually lead me into a rule of some fashion.

    I’m reminded of the Message in regards to Matt 11:29 “I will put nothing ill fitting on you” God will even use my propensity for sloth and “the easy way out” to change me in His Image. That is the amazing part the slow imperceptible change.

  • noel

    the bdivine office………………how important is it for lay christians……………how does it deepen our spirituality