Worship at the Abbey follows a regular pattern of short services, one at 9 in the morning and then at 9 in the evening. They are led by members of the community using the Iona Abbey Worship Book, liturgies that are fresh and creatively relevant to life in its rough and readiness. Music from around the world seems entirely in place as an expression of the international community that gathers to worship the God of all nations.
When Iona Abbey was a Benedictine Monastery in the Middle Ages the brothers would have observed seven times of prayer, following the Rule of St Benedict which states:
When the time comes for one of the divine offices to begin, as soon as the signal is heard, everyone must set aside whatever they may have in hand and hurry as fast as possible to the oratory (place of worship), but of course they should do so in a dignified way ……The essential point is that nothing should be accounted more important than the work of God.
The Rule Chapter 43
How telling that Benedict uses the term ‘Work of God’ (opus Dei) to describe corporate worship! At the heart of this phrase is belief that this is the most important thing we can be engaged in, around which everything else must be shaped. To me the phrase also speaks of it being the time God gets to work on us. As I spent four days at Burford Priory in Oxfordshire and joined with the monks and nuns in their regular cycle of divine offices I began to get a feel for this dynamic. It seemed at first that all these services came very quickly through the day and were somewhat of an interruption to my reading, walking and being silent. As I got accustomed to this new rhythm however, it had the effect of forming a structure to the day that was centred not on my agenda but on God’s call to worship. It was in the end a very liberating experience!
Thinking of Jesus’ life it is clear that he had an established pattern for prayer that was a priority above all else. ‘His custom’ was to go to the synagogue every Sabbath and daily to use the set forms of prayers every Jewish child would be brought up to know by heart.
The question we are left with is do we try to fit worship around our lives or do we fit our lives around worship?
- The Northumbrian Community uses a prayer that echoes words of Psalm 27; 4 to begin daily worship. Its origins are in Old Testament times when the Temple was viewed as the special place of meeting with God. Consider what it means today to dwell in the house of the Lord and to seek God in His temple. Does that mean only a church building? If you had ‘one thing’ you wanted to ask of the Lord, what would it be?
It would be good to learn this prayer and use it at the start of any time you approach the Lord in prayer and worship.
One thing I have asked of the Lord,
This is what I seek:
That I may dwell in the house of the Lord
All the days of my life;
To behold the fair beauty of the Lord
And to seek him in His temple.
- Iona is a place where many traditions enrich worship. Plan opportunities to experience different types of worship over the course of a year. For example, going occasionally to services in your own church other then the one you usually do; visiting churches of different denominations in your locality; use a variety CDs of recorded music to inspire worship, and play them as you drive, prepare a meal, iron etc., as well as in the place you normally pray at home.
- Reflect on your current pattern of worship through the week. Are there any changes you believe God is calling you to make? Consider time, place, form of prayer etc
There are many books that provide simple forms of daily prayer to help structure regular worship – Celebrating Common Worship, Celtic Daily Prayer – a Northumbrian Office, The Rhythm of Life by David Adam for example.
Often the local church has an act of worship each day where you can pray with others, which will be an encouragement to them and to you.
Make a plan for a month, which is not over ambitious, and stick to it!
Let the habit of worship become one you just can’t break!