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The Stability of Prayer

I don’t like change. There, I said it. I am a big fan of routine, of things staying the same. It’s comforting to me. It makes me feel like I have some kind of handle on life. If I know what’s coming I can prepare accordingly. I know what to look out for. I know what might make me anxious, and what might distract me. I do not like change. Unfortunately, the last couple of weeks have been rife with change, transition, and disruption. All of it has been positive, but change can be difficult, and a lot of change at once can be downright terrifying.

Last week I started classes at United Theological Seminary. I have been looking forward to seminary for years, and being able to sit in my first class felt like a real accomplishment. It’s one of those few moments where I’ve really let myself feel proud of all the work I’ve done. That being said, graduate school is no small task. A few days in and my head is already swimming with syllabi, assigned readings, and upcoming papers and assignments. I’m writing out lists and putting dates in my calendar in hopes of keeping myself organized. I’m doing my very best to switch back into school mode and stay focused.

Adding to this challenge is the fact that I begin a new job at a new congregation this month. I am leaving the congregation that has been my worshiping community for about six years. This one hurts. Don’t get me wrong, I’m incredibly excited for my new role, and I took the job because I know it will be a better fit and a step forward, but when I imagine Sunday morning without the people I have grown to love so much, it makes me very sad. I have a sense that this transition will be the most difficult to adapt to in the coming weeks.

When life transitions or changes, it can be difficult to find stability in the chaos. It has certainly been difficult for me. But this, I believe, is where daily spiritual practice earns its medal. The Benedictines take vows of stability, conversion, and obedience when they enter the monastery. Oblates do the same, and endeavor to carry these vows into their daily lives. For me, so much of this work is done in the discipline of prayer.

When I first began visiting St. John’s Abbey, it was the practice of praying with the brothers that truly drew me in. It was clear that the Daily Office was the central focus of their time together. Regardless of the many distractions and ever changing tasks and duties, the brothers met at the same time every morning, afternoon, and evening to recite the Psalms and pray for their community and the world. It seemed to me that it was this daily routine that ensured the stability of monastic life. Joan Chittister, in her book, Wisdom Distilled From the Daily, writes:

“It is so easy to commit ourselves to this century’s demand for product and action until the product consumes us and the actions exhaust us and we can no longer even remember why we set out to do them in the first place.

But regularity in prayer cures all that. Regularity harnesses us to our place in the universe. Morning and evening, season by season, year after year we watch the sun rise and set, death and resurrection daily come and go, beginnings and endings follow one another without terror and without woe. We come to realize that we are simply small parts of a continuing creation, and we take hope and comfort and perspective from that.” (Chittister *)

This is what the practice of daily prayer has offered me. It has given me a constant in the midst of a world that changes, often suddenly and violently. It has helped me to let go of my need to control the changes in my life. It reminds me each day why I do the things I do. My daily practice is my stability, and it centers me each morning, and each evening. In the morning I ask for guidance; O God, come to my assistance. O Lord, make haste to help me. In the evening I offer praise and thanksgiving. I pray the Psalms, that so beautifully convey the range of human experience and spirituality. I pray for the Church, the world, and all of creation so as to exercise a discipline of empathy. As I pray, I am aware of the people all over the world who pray these same words, recite the same Psalms and hymns, plugging me into an immense community of prayer.

So often the Daily Office provides the wisdom I need to hear, at the moment I need to hear it. This morning the canticle was taken from Isaiah, and spoke so eloquently to this time of transition.

My home is pulled up and removed like a shepherd’s tent. Like a weaver you have rolled up my life, you cut it from the loom.

 It is you who have kept my life from the pit of nothingness. (Isaiah 38:12 & 17)

It is this routine, this daily practice, that creates in me a sense of stability. It provides for me a refuge in the midst of transition, and challenge, and chaos. It is a reminder to let go and settle into the Church’s steady stream of prayer and devotion, to be comforted by its rhythm and its goodness. I have found that when I maintain this practice I find peace and centeredness even in those times where I think there can be none. I think this must be what grace filled stability looks like, and I am so very thankful for it.

breviary

  • Joan Chittister “Wisdom Distilled From the Daily” Harper Collins 1991.

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