Recently when I went home to England we had a reunion of old college friends of mine. Most were not believers of any sort - I had known them since I was eighteen and so the friendships pre-date, by a long way, my conversion (I was 31 when was received into the Church and have just turned 50 FYI). It was great to catch up with everyone and see how they were getting on. I was interested by a recent decision of one. She had given up teaching genetics at Imperial College, London and was now working for a company that would go into investment banks in the City and teach executives how to meditate to help them deal with the stress of the job. She been introduced to meditation when she took up yoga for the physical benefits and then was attracted to the 'spirituality' that is attached to it.
In order to convince the executives that there is something to this Eastern meditation, they would be armed with statistics from scientific research. She said that there had been observable improvements in the condition of heart patients in hospitals when people meditated. The research shows, she said, that even if the patients did not meditate with the visitors or even if they were unaware it was happening, just have meditation going on in the building seemed to have a positive effect.
I was happy to believe that she was right and that the research backed her up. However, my reaction was that if anything good was coming out of this, then it was because it was participating in some way in Christian prayer, whether they knew it or not. I would contest that the fullness of what they are doing is in the traditional prayer of the Church and there is every chance that this would be even more powerful if done.
When I got back to the USA, I contacted local hospitals and asked if they would like a small group of people to come and sing Vespers on a regular basis. What is surprising and some ways dismaying, is that I couldn't find anyone who had ever heard of this being done before. There are Christian prayer groups who visit hospitals, but I don't hear of people making regular commitment (beyond the occasional concert) to pray the liturgy. Shouldn't the liturgy of the hours be one of our most powerful weapons as part of the New Evangelisation?
I was delighted when the Catholic chaplain at the VA Hospital, the American armed services veterans hospital in Manchester, New Hampshire invited us to come in every other Monday evening. Fr Boucher is an old friend of mine and the college. Since September, myself and Dr Tom Larson from Thomas More College have been leading a group of male students in Vespers and Compline on Monday evenings. Because we were singing the psalms, we have presented it as ecumenical and administratively this enabled us to fill an available slot in the chapel and it has attracted a few non-Catholics
The veterans at the hospital know that we are there but very few have been able to come each time. Most are too ill or injured even to be able to get up one floor from the ward without someone dressing them and bringing them up and those helpers aren't always available. Even then, I am not fooling myself that large numbers want to come but can't make it. This is an unusual thing. But we are undaunted. A regular group of up to a dozen guys has been going in and singing the psalms. We keep the door open and sing loud enough so that it floats down the corridor for the wards to hear. They are always surprised at the effort we make to sing well on their behalf and in order to praise God. It has been gratifying to hear how readily those who come, many who have never been to any Office before, can sing with us, and want to. We are singing in the vernacular so that any visitor can understand and join in. Nevertheless the tones are modal and have the feel of the plainchant tradition and this I think draws them in. (They were developed for the liturgy at the college)...
Read his full reflection at the NLM post "Send Out the L-Team - Making a Sacrifice of Praise for American Veterans"