Tuesday, 4 August 2015

Come to our aid

Deus in adiutorium meum intende
Domine ad adiuvandum me festina

Italian Book of Hours, c1460
O God come to our aid;  O Lord make haste to help us.

The opening words of the Divine Office - so easy to say by rote, as a kind of preamble before we get to the real prayer.  They come from Psalm 70. St John Cassian believed that these words summed up all that scripture teaches about prayer and our trustful dependence on God: this verse… takes up all the emotions that can be applied to human nature and…adjusts itself to every condition’. St Benedict took the words into his rhythm of daily prayer, and since his time they have been used to open every 'hour' of prayer in the western Christian tradition. If we mark the 'hours' of the day in this way it can be a good discipline to stop what we're doing.Perhaps we've been engaged in work we enjoy, when we were using our gifts and skills and - quite rightly - rejoicing in them. Or perhaps something stressful or demanding, outside our comfort zone, when we've had a lot of 'shoulds' around. We stop to ask God's help, and to plead for it to come quickly. We are forced to remember our utter dependence on God. Sometimes I think that opening invocation is more important than the psalms and readings which follow.

There's a story about St Columban, the Irish missionary who founded monasteries in present-day France and Italy at the end of the sixth century: when threatened by fierce wolves he quietened them by reciting 'Deus in adiutorium...' over and over. 'Every condition' indeed!

Traditionally, these opening words of the Office are accompanied by the sign of the Cross. God comes to our aid and hurries to help us in the person of Jesus.