Shaking up the Prayer routine

For years, my prayer routine has been consistent: audio daily readings from the USCCB, followed by the USCCB daily reflection video and usually a Robert Barron reflection email.

Throughout the pandemic shutdown and semi-shutdown, I’ve been coping with the extra togetherness by going for hikes and long bike rides, which give me greater time for prayer in solitude and (sort of) stillness. (Sort of, because my brain is a beehive constantly)

But as the weather got too cold for outdoor rest/restoration/prayer time, I realized I have to shake up my prayer routine to offset the lack of access to stillness and solitude. In December, I reached out to one of my choir members who has been involved in contemplative prayer outreach, and he generously put together a stack of books to get me started.

So this year I am devoting Monday, Wednesday, and Friday to contemplative prayer, and mixing up the other four days of the week with daily Scriptures, etc.

The first thing I realized is that I’ve already been doing this for years. But now I’m approaching it in a new way.

Contemplative prayer is hard work, but I can feel the difference. Yesterday the weather was unseasonably warm, and I carved out two hours for a hike/walk along a creek in a local nature area. I found an eroded bank to lean back against for about forty minutes of off-and-on bonus contemplative prayer. For the rest of the day and evening I basked in a glow of contentment. Despite it being the craziest day of the week; despite having thousands of things to do and all kinds of anxieties surrounding circumstances I can’t change. Despite it all: contentment.

It was an eye-opener. William A. Meninger says that contemplative prayer is the most effective one there is–not that rosaries and Lectio Divina and so on are not good, because they are, and will always be necessary–but this is where we most truly love God, because we are simply being with him, without agenda–and for that reason it is the most effective praying we can do. It has been a part of Christian prayer for millennia.

The way I felt last night certainly gave some weight to that assertion.

Right Here… Even Now

I am praying Advent this year with Cameron Bellm’s “Advent with St. Oscar Romero,” and the reality of my life is that my first day, I was looking at last year’s edition instead of this year’s. The takeaway of the day was:: if God was present in all the upheaval and injustice taking place in El Salvador in 1977, when Romero wrote the homily I was praying with, then that applies today, too. God is present. Even in this. The good, yes, but also the bad.

Given the reality of pandemic, persistent injustice, fake news, and the constant apocalyptic thinking that characterizes both sides of the political spectrum these days, this seems like a particularly beautiful thought for this Advent.

All Will Be Well…..?

On days when I ride out to the Missouri River, I often take the book The Ignatian Adventure (Kevin O’Brien, S.J.) to guide reflection and prayer. Yesterday, the Scripture verse was Jesus asking, “What are you looking for?”

Instantly, I thought: “Peace.”

Then I thought: “No, it can’t be that easy.”

As previously established on this blog, my Enneagram personality type is #1, The Crusader. I am hyper-aware of everything in the world that is NOT AS IT SHOULD BE, and I feel if I do not expand my last drop of energy attempting to fix it, I am derelict in my duty. I am very hard on others, but I’m harder on myself. Integrity tops the list of traits I value most.

None of this facilitates a peaceful spirit.

Further complicating the acquisition of a peaceful spirit is the sheer intensity of family life in a time of division and pandemic. Peace, for me, is achieved in solitude and quiet. These days, solitude is hard to come by. I walk around my house all day turning off things people turned on, closing doors they opened, yelling at them to put away things they got out and left (food, dishes, dirty socks, electronics, you name it), and to quit annoying each other out of sheer boredom… and (let’s call a spade a spade) boy mischief.

And all of you who are out there feeling smug right now about “well, if you’d just teach them,” just remember how resistant your own kids are/were to the lessons you tried to teach. And imagine being stuck in a house for seven-plus months trying to correct such patterns with people whose mental health is as precarious as your own, during one of the most blisteringly, ugly, divisive times our country has ever experienced.

So yes. When Jesus asks, “What are you looking for in following me?” the honest answer is: “peace.” The peace that comes from assurance that everything is going to be okay, and not just someday on the far side of death, but here, in this world. This beautiful, fragile, fractured world given to us as practice for Heaven.

I love this quote from Julian of Norwich. It is so comforting–except when people use the quote to suggest that we shouldn’t be worrying about solving real world problems because the only thing that matters is what comes later. As if you’re ever going to be allowed INTO the world beyond without working for its realization on this side of the great divide.

And yet, also, I have been slowly waking to a new insight, these past weeks. Sometimes situations are so messed up, there IS no human solution. The division in America, for instance. No matter who wins this election, the problem at the foundation isn’t going away. We don’t have a solution for the ugliness and bitterness and extremism of our politics. We’ve chained ourselves to them.

There must be away out—a way toward unity and cooperation—but I can’t see it, and I don’t have much faith that anyone else can, either.

So my prayers, of late, have been asking God to show us the path we can’t find on our own. And recognizing that the path TO that path may be so steep, tick-and-poison-ivy-infested, and rugged, we may just have to take it on total faith that we’re heading the right direction at all. That regardless of what I can see or comprehend–no matter what it looks like right now–all will, eventually, be well.

More #seethegood in virtual learning

I have four kids, and each of them is in a different school this year. (Long story.) Two of them are in seat (one because parochial school, one because special ed), the other two are all online so far.

Today is the first day I have to have one of my in-seat kids at home for learning, and since I’m groaning internally about it, I want to stop to acknowledge the great blessing that my two highest-maintenance kids have, in fact, been able to have relatively normal schooling all the way to October 21st. I have been on fire in my writing–laser focused and accomplishing a lot.

At the same time, some really beautiful things have come out of having two kids at home for school. I’ve gone running with my 6th grader a few times. Taken afternoon walks with him at other times. Eaten lunch with my high schooler, who, in an ordinary year, we’d barely see because he’d transition between school and marching band and be gone for ten hours and do homework the rest.

Also, I have a lot better picture of what my kids are doing at school this year. I’m puttering around the kitchen during middle school zooms and for that reason I know all the teachers by voice and name and I know that one teacher has a chirping smoke detector in her house, and I can hear the banter in the class. I can ask intelligent questions about the things the kids are studying, because I have some clue what they are.

It’s a give and take. There are plenty of things that feel constraining about this mode of education, and keeping spirits high… or, well, in the neutral range or better… requires constant vigilance. I feel much more guilty for going to take my hike/bike/sit/pray times when there are kids at home. But there are things to love about it, too.

#seethegood: parenting, prayer, and virtual school

Taking video notes on a used manila envelope. I know. I’m a model of good academic skills.

I was dreading many things about this school year, but so far the one that’s been the most problematic was the one I didn’t really anticipate: workload management for my high schooler. He’s stressed, which makes me stressed. We all know how important high school is in shaping the man or woman you become. Plus, when you have to cram a year’s worth of work into a semester, the workload is heavy.

I internalize my children’s stress. (That’s a blog post for another blog.) So this week has been an exercise in creative, prayerful parenting. I woke at 3:50 a.m. yesterday and couldn’t get back to sleep. This is pretty common for me, but usually it’s because I’m thinking about my own work. Yesterday it was anxiety on behalf of my high schooler.

I ended up praying a rosary on his behalf as I laid awake, and then moved on and started the day. Checked in with the kids, then did my own work for a while.

But when he came up for lunch, I closed up shop and said, “Okay, bring the work here. I’m here to help from now until school pickup.”

By the time I had to leave an hour and a half later, we were both feeling better. I didn’t connect it with my morning prayer until late last night as I was lying in bed again. I feel like that prayer settled and grounded and oriented me for the day–and perhaps him as well.

Definitely a #seethegood moment.

#seethegood in virtual learning

(Background image by Free-Photos, via Pixabay

My kids’ school district finally decided last night to go online. We knew it had to be coming, but the uncertainty has been punishing. It’s a tough thing, living with delay and uncertainty. And as long as it wasn’t certain, it was hard not to keep hoping. Hoping for a couple days’ normalcy a week.

2020’s been a punishing year. For all of us. For the most part, we’re not handling it well. I firmly believe the ugliness and rush to the extremes that we’re seeing has been exacerbated by stress. When you feel like you can’t handle one thing more, that one political nugget just sends you over the edge. Certainly it’s been happening to me. I’m at the point where I don’t trust my discernment of when to speak and when not to.

Contemplating an all-online school year, or at least a significant start to it (because the carrot is always dangling there: if the cases go down…) has so many really obvious negatives, it’s a real spiritual exercise to #seethegood. I’m going to have to give up so much. My kids are so sick of this house. Of each other. My soul feels suffocated from togetherness, from lack of time to go out in the expansiveness of the universe. I lost the spring for my weekly hikes and bikes, but I clung to the fall, and now the fall is gone too.

But there is this: going back to school was always going to increase the exposure exponentially. As long as we’re virtual, we can still rest secure that our kids’ friends, who are also virtual, are low-exposure, and that’s one good thing, because it means we can continue to carve out time for them to be together with less worry (not “no” worry, but “less”).

And all virtual means, paradoxically, more instruction. The hybrid schedule involved two days of in-seat and three days of independent study, which has been a struggle for my kids. In the virtual model the kids can all be “in class” together.

I suppose there’s also the potential for slightly more flexibility of family schedule, although I won’t know that for sure for a while.

And I suppose there’s another #seethegood so obvious, we’re not really clued into it right now: that all this suffering and upheaval is sensitizing us to the goodness of our ordinary lives. We have taken so many things for granted. If we approach this time exercising our thankfulness muscles, we could be different people when we come out the other side.

#seethegood – my breakfast cafe

It’s been beautifully cool this week, and I left the house on Tuesday before the kids were up to do my favorite bike ride, 12 miles roundtrip, with an hour and a half to sit quietly beside the Missouri River at the turnaround point. This point was my breakfast cafe.

There’s divine magic in the way a drop of dew clings to the tip of a piece of grass.

And there’s something that reveals the mystery of holiness in the play of light and shadow.

It’s been 157 days since this pandemic shut down schools. 157 days of intense parenting and constantly shifting reality and discernments. This is the time of year when I try to get out to be still with God in nature at least once a week. I’ve only managed it about four times. It’s been rough. But I’m so grateful for the times when it’s been possible.

#seethegood… in opponents

Photo by Lisa Fotios on Pexels.com

I have been struggling the last couple weeks with #seethegood posts. It’s not that I’m lacking in goodness to see around me–it’s just that too much of it is too specific to my own situation, involving things and people that aren’t appropriate to share publicly.

But this morning, it occurs to me that I can share this pearl of wisdom from my husband. For several years, he’s wanted to use his birthday as an opportunity to serve rather than be celebrated. It doesn’t always work out, but this year he did.

He asked people on Facebook to give him a gift: to only be nice to each other–to focus on family and fun, and if they had to go political–well, you can read his words below. I share them today because of something we all know, but often forget: that whatever we look for, whatever we cultivate in the garden of our hearts, is what we get more of. If we look for things to be angry about, we’ll find things to be angry about everywhere, in everything. If we look for reasons to judge, the reasons will not only present themselves, they will multiply exponentially, until we are incapable of accepting–we have trained ourselves to judgment.

I figured this #seethegood moment could be a really beautiful leaven for the coming fall of pandemic and politics.

Enough from me. Here’s my husband:

OK folks — my birthday is TUESDAY, as in ELECTION DAY (for several states). Kate always asks what I want on my birthday, and this year, I landed on something — I’m fatigued as I’m sure we all are. So this year, if you so desire — for my birthday — I’m asking that you do one of two things (or both):

1.) Not post anything that rings of politics or seeks to judge others for a problem. Instead, focus on the kids, pets, sunsets, soft rain, flowers, awesome food, etc. in your life and give us a post about that. OR……..

2.) Look at a post that would normally evoke a visceral reaction from you and find ONE GOOD THING in the argument. You don’t have to agree with the point, but you have to acknowledge that it is a GOOD POINT. And I don’t mean some dumbass platitude. Honestly look for something that forces you to go beyond your comfort zone or your political leaning and see that someone, somewhere who thinks completely differently from you has a good point in an argument.And then, tell me about in a post. Tell me what you posted instead of a political meme or rant or judgement OR tell me about what you found in someone’s post that you initially disagreed with.And THAT, THAT folks is what I would like on my birthday.😃

#seethegood: scrupulousness

I’m thinking a lot these days about that old adage, “work as if everything depends on you. Pray as if everything depends on God.”

I’m definitely a “work like it depends on you” kind of person. The thing about scrupulousness is that if you aren’t doing All The Things 100%, you think you’re not doing enough. You may be doing things A-G, but things H and I are still sitting there. What if your modest contribution was the tiny drop that made the difference between success and failure? It doesn’t matter if Things H and I are totally outside your comfort zone. In fact, that’s all the more reason why you ought to get over yourself and do them.

It sounds nonsensical when put into words–egotistical, even.

I recently listened to an interfaith podcast where they explored personality types not by Meyers-Briggs, but by enneagram, through a lens of how personality impacts faith: what we’re good at, what our spiritual “fatal flaw” is. The enneagram makes more sense to me than Meyers-Briggs. I can’t keep all those letters straight. But on the enneagram scale, I am a #1. To a T.

So for me, it’s natural to work like it all depends on me. I’m aware of the need to balance that with the “pray like it depends on God.” And I do. I pray a lot.

(But do I pray enough? asks scrupulousness.)

The purpose of that aphorism is to stress the need for balance, but for a person who bears the cross of scrupulousness, there is no balance. It’s always “more, more, more.” On both sides of the equation.

When I express this, certain people chastise me for lack of faith: if only you would trust God/Jesus/give it to Mary, all this internal conflict would go away.

No doubt that’s true for some personality types, but not for an enneagram #1. Anxiety binds itself around you like a spiderweb. You can’t get rid of it. It sticks to you no matter how much you try to shake it off.

Most people don’t “get” this. They seem to think I’m choosing the angst–as if I haven’t spent my life looking for a fix. Through solitude in nature, I can find temporary (and partial) respite. I can nudge myself a degree or two in the direction of release, but the current inexorably brings me back. It is how I was made.

I’m working toward being at peace with this, though. Because the fact is, God doesn’t make mistakes, so if I was made this way, it was for a reason. And if that’s the case, then in this apparent weakness (the people on the podcast said, “Oh, those poor people!” when hearing the description of Enneagram #1), there must be strength, too. A gift to be given, a gift that in fact requires this particular set of traits.

I don’t have it all figured out, but I can #seethegood at least this far: I recognize that my scrupulousness helps me to be a better steward of God’s gifts. It challenges me to use those gifts to the best of my ability. And it prevents me from living an unexamined life filled with conflict between my faith and my lived actions. I have a whole different set of conflicts to wrestle, but at least it’s a clear-eyed, authentic struggle.