Monday, July 23, 2007

Book of Hours

Book of Hours

The Book of Hours was the most popular book of the Middle Ages. Primarily belonging to the wealthy, written by hand and illuminated by noted artists, only nobility and the rich could afford them. Around the text, artists filled in with elaborate borders, colored miniatures and exquisite decorations. The Frick Fine Arts Library at the University of Pittsburgh contains a 15th century Book of Hours. There are many fine photos of this book at their website.

On July 8, 1999, Christie’s Auction House in London sold a Book of Hours dating from the early 1500’s. Confiscated by the Nazis during World War II and recently recovered, the book included 67 full-page illustrations. Nothing of that magnitude had been offered on the open market. The sale price was over fourteen million dollars, a record for an illuminated book.
The small handbooks were called Book of Hours because they encouraged hourly meditation and prayer and some sections are titled the Hours of the Cross and Hours of the Holy Spirit. They were produced in Europe, but were especially popular in France and Flanders.

Ages ago, town bells or church bells were used as signals within a community. If a need arose, the church bells could sound an alarm, or one tradition was to ring the bells on the hour reminding Christians to pray. Psalm 119:164 says, “Seven times a day, I praise you for your righteous laws.”

Daniel prayed daily: “He went home to his upstairs room where the windows opened toward Jerusalem. Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God” (6:10).

No one but God is truly aware of how often individuals speak with him. One of my favorite older books about prayer is Don’t Just Stand There: Pray Something by Ronald J. Dunn. Any prayer, no matter how inept in expression is better than no prayer. Occasionally an actor in a drama will say something like “Lord, I’m not used to talking to you, but if you’re listening. . ....” A one on one visit with God is a good prayer-start, a very good start.

Perhaps you began praying many years ago, or you may be a beginner. Today, when you notice the hour is about to change, be reminded that the Creator of time and prayer is longing to hear from you. You don’t need fancy printed prayers on decorated paper to get started. Just pray.

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