Upon waking, I push through the fog to make the sign of the cross. Standing is difficult because of a neurological disorder in my legs and feet, but I eventually get up, stumble to the kitchen, and brew coffee. While it finishes, I present myself at my modest home altar and make a morning prayer offering.
Inspired by Orthodox icon corners, I converted the top shelf of a bookcase into a place for prayer. It is adorned with a wooden cross; holy cards of the Holy Family; an icon of St. Jude given to me from my grandfather; two small brass thuribles also given to me from my grandfather; a small brass bell; and a prayer card of Pope Francis.
The ritual begins with a selection of traditional prayers such as the Jesus Prayer and the Our Father. After that, I include personal thanksgivings and intercessions.
Most importantly, I include an explicit offering of my day to the One who presented it to me as a gift. “I offer you this day that you first gave me with all of the pain and joy, happiness and sorrow, successes and failures.”
The day, after all, began before I woke up. The sun rose without my help, plants have been creating oxygen through photosynthesis, and my body functioned before my eyes opened. The morning offering is a time when I can offer back to God what God has given to me.
I began making a morning offering a few years ago after being moved by the Suscipe prayer of St. Ignatius of Loyola.
Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty,
my memory, my understanding,
and my entire will,
All I have and call my own.
You have given all to me.
To you, Lord, I return it.
Everything is yours; do with it what you will.
Give me only your love and your grace,
that is enough for me.
Prior to my current ritual, I typically prayed at the start of the day but without a formal routine. With the morning offering, something changed. The intentional act of offering my day awakened me to how much givenness there is to life, how much faith is needed to get through any day, and how much is (as St. Ignatius put it) enough.
The morning offering compels me to become attentive to my faith in God’s sufficiency throughout all circumstances because God’s love and grace — which is nothing besides God — are enough.
Jesus taught his disciples, “Watch and pray.” The early desert fathers and mothers of the Church encouraged nepsis or watchfulness. A watchful faith produces vigilance against selfish thoughts that obscure the view of God’s hand in all circumstances.
Nepsis also prompts diligence in gratitude — especially during times of suffering. Diana Butler Bass quotes Mary Jo Leedy’s observation about the paradox of thanksgiving in suffering, “Gratitude does not dispel the mystery of suffering and evil in the world and may even deepen it.”
My illness causes chronic pain and sometimes leaves me bedridden. I lay for incalculable hours unable to focus on much more than a squall of mindless social media posts. After retiring from my occupation as a teacher and starting disability nearly two years ago, I am still searching for and trying to construct a sense of daily purpose. Beset by waves of agony, anxiety, and depression, prayer has become my refuge and work.
Pain, boredom, and loss of identity are the given elements of my day. Welcoming their givenness with deliberate faith creates an awareness of the divine fullness saturating each moment. Suffering is not simply a topic for prayer; suffering becomes my prayer. And my morning offering prepares me for watchfulness as my suffering deepens.
My prayer ritual rarely lasts more than 5 minutes, but it trains me in nepsis. Some days are easier than others. Standing at my home altar is hard because of my illness, so even the givenness of that pain becomes an act of faith. The daily sting of my chronic illness continues to hurt, but the pain becomes integral to my offering and an occasion to encounter God if I am watchful throughout the day.
Fr. Walter Ciszek, SJ was an American who became a political prisoner in the Soviet gulag for nearly 23 years. He underwent the horrors or torture and hard labor in Siberia. After his release, he returned to the United States where he wrote popular books and taught at Fordham University. Reflecting on his experiences, Fr. Ciszek observed:
“Only by faith could I find God present in every circumstance; only by faith could I penetrate the mystery of his saving grace, not by questioning it in any way but by fully cooperating with it in exactly the way he asked.”
Drawn from decades as an innocent victim of oppression, prayer did more than provide Fr. Ciszek consolation. His suffering became his prayer through union with Christ’s suffering.
Beyond the solace of acceptance, watchfulness in prayer enables mysterious participation the redemptive work of God through unity with the Passion of Jesus.
This mystery occurs most eminently in the Eucharist.
The liturgy of the Eucharist begins with the Offertory prayers for the bread and wine.
Blessed are you, Lord God of all creation,
for through your goodness we have received the bread we offer you:
fruit of the earth and work of human hands,
it will become for us the bread of life.
Blessed are you, Lord God of all creation,
for through your goodness we have received the wine we offer you:
fruit of the vine and work of human hands,
It will become our spiritual drink.
All good gifts come from above, St. James writes. God gave us wheat and grapes, but we do not simply take raw wheat and wild grapes to the altar. We till the soil, nurture the crops, garner the harvest, bake the bread, and ferment the wine. “The work of human hands” cooperates with the givenness of God’s blessings to create a gift that we present back to God.
In this way, we offer more than bread and wine; we offer ourselves.
The liturgical prayer reminds us that we offer what has already been given in conjunction with the work of our hands. We bring the gifts through God’s goodness who transfigures our offering in communion with Christ and his sufferings in order to transform us into the divine image. This mystery is the source and summit of Christian faith.
The liturgical prayers of thanksgiving and blessing encapsulate the mystery of the gospel. The commingling of God’s grace with our loving response transfigures mere bread and wine into our spiritual sustenance, and the morning offering serves as an analog of the Eucharistic mystery.
Imagine a child who draws a picture or makes a craft for her parents. The parents gave the child all the supplies: crayons, construction paper, glue, glitter, and scissors. The child returns the materials but not in the same form. They have been changed — colored, cut, glued, and decorated. The elements have been altered by an act of creative will, and they are offered back in a new form with one essential ingredient that the child added on her own: Love.
The gift still has the outer appearance of paper, glue, and glitter. But the elements have been transubstantiated to become more than craft supplies. They have become love.
But even the gift of the child’s love originated with the parents. The child’s existence began with an act of procreative love. Love nurtured the child in the womb, birthed her, fed her, changed her diapers, rocked her to sleep, and taught her how to use crayons, paper, scissors, and glue.
The child exists in an ecosystem of love that enables the child to know, feel, and express love. The parents’ love is the source of the child’s love and the summit that the child experiences in love as the child presents the offering of her hands to her parents.
The child loves the parents because the parents first loved the child, and the child blesses the parents by uniting her love with the parents’ love through the offering of a gift made from the raw materials — including love — that the parent originally supplied to the child.
My morning offering is that of a child who has received all of the resources from my heavenly parent — oxygen, food, relationships, love, and even suffering. In prayer, I declare my intention to add the loving work of my hands to those raw materials as an act of devotion throughout the day.
It is not always a work of art. Sometimes I forget my offering before I pour my coffee. Nevertheless, the morning offering creates a sense of watchfulness that draws my attention during the day to see God’s gift of love in all of the people and events I encounter.
My morning offering is a filial declaration of gratitude, a statement of faith, and a conscious promise to shape God’s gifts with my human hands with the goal of returning them anew with love.
A morning offering at a prayer corner is not the only way to set your day, and you might have your own routine. I would like to encourage you to find a way to begin your day with an expression of gratitude and a promise to serve. Over time, it has improved the way I live by strengthening my faith and broadening my spiritual awareness, and I believe it can do the same for you.