I have always felt that beginnings and endings are important, and this is no less so in monastic practice. There are many beginnings and endings to consider; of each Office; of seasonal ceremonies; of each day; of retreats/retreat days; of the liturgical year; of monastic work itself.
In this post I am going to look at all of these (except for the beginning and ending of a liturgical year) in the earlier part of my practice before I joined the Order of the Sacred Nemeton (OSN). Although I did have a notion of a liturgical year, for me it ended and began at the Winter Solstice and I didn’t do any extra marking of it except what was in my Winter Solstice Ceremony.
The beginning of each Office was, and still is, marked by standing before my main household shrine for a few seconds of recollection before lighting the candles. (I did have only one candle at the beginning but the shrine gradually became a three-level one to correspond to the ‘Land, Sea, Sky’ idea). Then I have a short ‘candle-lighting prayer’:
‘Bright Flames, fragments of the eternal and everlasting fire, symbols of the Divine, I welcome you.’
The idea of a candle-lighting prayer or invocation came from my OBOD studies at the time.
Then, following the candle-lighting prayer, I would take up my breviary and turn to face the relevant direction for that particular Office. A few moments to centre and ground would be next, then I take three breaths; ‘one with the Earth beneath me, one with the Sky above me and one with all the waters around these beautiful islands’ (I live in the British Isles). Then I go into the Office itself.
These preparations have evolved a bit further during my years with the OSN and I will look at that in a future post.
The endings of those early Offices or Observances were taken from the ritual format taught in the OBOD study course at the time. So before blowing out the candle/s I would say:
‘As this light is extinguished may it be re-lit within all hearts.’
Then the candle is extinguished and the Office is completed with;
‘May the world be filled with peace, and love, and light.’ (said three times).
This early format has been built upon a little as my practice has progressed but the above elements of it remain. This format was based on the OBOD ritual structure at the time (I did what is mostly referred to now as the ‘old’ course). This is also the case with my seasonal ceremonies which began with:
‘O Great Spirit, O Spirit of this circle, O Spirit of this place, I ask for your blessing, guidance, protection and inspiration on this my ceremony of ….’
Following this the candle would be lit, and the ceremony proceed.
The ending of the seasonal ceremonies used a development of the closing for the Offices:
‘As this light is extinguished, may it be re-lit within all hearts’.
The candle would then be extinguished and,
‘May the world be filled with peace and joy, purity and love, light and life.’ (said three times).
I tend to see each day as beginning at the Midnight Office so that is where my ‘Daily Dedication’ is. This was another idea which came from my OBOD studies. I kept it very simple with;
‘O Great Spirit, may my every action today be performed in your service.’
I also added a prayer, which I call my ‘Daily Invocation’, to the Midnight Office:
‘I thank you, O Great Spirit, for my life here on this Earth, and I ask for blessings on myself and my loved ones.
Fill me with holy power and bless me with wisdom that I may use and direct the power only for good.
Illuminate me from within that I may radiate light upon the world around.
I ask this in the name of the Sky Father, the Earth Mother, the True Taker and the Great Giver, One being of light.’ (then chant ‘Awen’).
(A slightly different version of this prayer is in the ‘Alternative’ OBOD ceremonies for Beltane, Alban Eilir and Alban Elfed which were written in 1994, and an amended version of it is in the current OBOD Beltane ceremonies.)
I certainly saw, and still see, the Midnight Office as the beginning of the daily round. The ending of the daily round is less clear in that the Late-Evening Office (just before going to bed) does feel like an ending of some significance. I do my ‘Thanksgiving’ and ‘Daily Review’ at the Late-Evening Office so that Office does feel like it brings the day to a close. In the yearly round the Late-Evening Office corresponds to Samhuinn which is often seen as an ending of the year. It doesn’t particularly feel like a beginning to me although it is often seen as the ‘Celtic New Year’. The period between Samhuinn and the Winter Solstice feels more like a ‘waiting’ time, or a time of rest before the new year begins, a kind of ‘time out of time’, a ‘between time’. It could then be understood as, ‘we rise in the darkness of the ‘between time’ to witness the birth of the new day/year.’
For the retreats and retreat days I began early on in my monastic practice I felt I needed a formal beginning and ending for these, although I called the beginning a ‘dedication’, and the ending a ‘closing’. Again, I kept these invocations simple:
‘I declare the opening of this retreat. I consecrate this retreat to the attainment of wisdom to be used for the good of all beings.’
‘I give many thanks for this retreat and for all I have received. I declare the concluding of this retreat. May I retain the wisdom gained and use it for the good of all beings.’
I like the idea of a beginning and ending to retreat periods. Our retreat days (Days Out of Time) in the OSN have this written in to the special Offices for the Days Out of Time.
For the idea of beginnings to one’s monastic work there are the monastic Vows. I may look at our OSN vows in a future post. At the beginning of my early monastic work I hadn’t thought about taking Vows. I did have a formal beginning of my monastic practice in May 1994, and I did renew my commitment to my Druid work each year on the anniversary of my entering the Bardic Grade in OBOD in February 1992.
Beginnings and endings feel as though they give some kind of definition and ‘shape’ to whatever it is they enclose. There is also a feeling of intent put forth with the beginnings, and of summing up and making sense of the event with the endings. I think it contributes to the idea of containment and of ‘order’ which is so important in monastic living.