It is unfortunate today that the modern Christian often perceives of their personal prayer time or the church prayer meeting in a negative way. Worn out and harried by a busy work and family schedule, we see prayer as just another thing on our list to be checked off . The reason is that we see the clock, or time, as an enemy, with agendas and activity squeezing out any hope for rest, reflection and spiritual renewal. In reality, the biblical focus of time is rest, and is based on the Sabbath. Each day of the week led towards the last day, when one was to rest and reflect on the God’s purpose for creating us, and therein rediscover the true meaning for one’s life. Work was to flow into and out of rest. There we would find spiritual renewal and divine purpose. We would come to understand our lives in the context of the divine plan and work that God has prepared for us from before time (Ephesians 2:10). God did not design us for a life of drudgery but for high spiritual adventure. The adventure begins in prayer, learning to rest from outer activity to discover how one can journey inwardly and once again walk in the garden with God. All of a sudden prayer times become our most anticipated moments in the day.
So it was for the Christians of the 5th and 6th centuries, during the lifetime of Saint Benedict. It was so exciting that they had a mechanical clock made so that that they would not miss prayer times. It is amazing to think that the first mechanical clock ever made, was not designed with business in mind, but prayer. Therefore, the first mechanical clock really was a prayer clock, designed to remind people of the importance of aligning their agenda with God’s agenda in order to find meaning and purpose for the rest of life. The clock was to help them not forget their appointments before the throne of God. God’s council through prayer was to inform and influence their activity, as God shaped and prompted their decisions to be aligned with his perfect, good and acceptable will for this world. As mother Teresa was fond of declaring: “Prayer results in faith, faith in love, and love in service to others.” If our lives are to have an impact, our time and activity must flow out of a life of prayer.
In the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, the faithful stopped and prayed wherever they were when the church bells rang. The bells called them to pray at designated hours. It was also common for the people to carry with them a “Book of Hours” with specific prayers among which were the prayers marking the hours of Christ’s crucifixion and the work of the Holy Spirit. They would also have pages set aside for artists to draw or paint scenes of daily life to remind them that Christ’s presence was to influence their decisions and actions in their daily routines.