Hypatia's Library
Thursday, February 10, 2005
Lenten Disciplines & Prayer
I especially enjoy reading What Now? because she blogs about spiritual and church related issus in a way that makes sense to me. Her faith seems to have struggles in many of the same ways that mine does. This post started as a comment to her entry on lenten disciplines and turned into a longer entry than seemed polite for a comments section.

It's interesting to me that Lent is just about the right amount of time (for me) to form a habit. Generally I resolve to read/pray and at the end of lent manage to keep it up semi-regularly for quite some time (like 6-9 months). Something about the fall/Christmas holiday season always messes me up, causes me to lose the routine, and I restart again with Lent... I don't usually do physicial disciplines (those come with the new year resolutions rather than Lent for some reason to me). And although Presbyterians take the One Great Hour of Sharing offering, I don't try to give up something and contribute the money I would have spent to that. I just write a check. I am not 'routine' enough in anything I would give up for that to form a realistic way of contributing.

When I think about the spiritual things though, I have to admit that prayer is a very hard one for me. Reading scripture and thinking about it is fun in an intellectual sort of way. I like knowing things. This is just one more way of learning stuff. Learning stuff about God, but in many ways it is no different than learning stuff for a class or learning stuff to present at a conference. Read, think, synthesize... It has even extended to reading the church confessions and studying some heavyduty theology. Because learning stuff is fun.

Prayer is very much like going to a party and making small talk. That's not quite right, but it's right in the sense that I know prayer is supposed to build a relationship but often I just end up feeling awkward and uncomfortable and wishing I were somewhere else. Or my mind wanders from the topic at hand to the grocery list, or my writing, or an encounter I had with other people. Then I feel guilty and pray about not praying which seems dumb. I've tried different ways to focus (pray for the length of a morning walk, write prayers down etc) and I rarely feel like that helps.

At one point I was so desparate for prayer and so unable to stick with it that I bought a book called A diary of private prayer that gives you a month's worth of morning and evening prayers. I did stick with praying them for a while and they were really effective at getting me through a very dark time in my relationship with God. And I found that praying them out loud (actually reading each word out loud) helped me feel more in conversation than anything else. But it was still not the personal relationship in the sense that I didn't formulate my own words. And it was/is difficult for me to feel good about 'praying' the same set thing over and over.

This sounds like I view God as quite distant, and I don't actually. I feel especially close at certain times. One of those times is during the liturgy on Sunday's (common prayer as opposed to personal prayer). So maybe that's just how I am. And yet, I know people who talk about praying about which house to buy or which job to take or what to say to someone and I rarely do that. (I find God is involved in those decisions but more by providing opportunties than because I asked for guidance). I envy other Christians that personalness about the way they talk to God. Of course I also envy others their ease at interacting with people in social situations, so maybe these are similar problems.

At church, they have been talking about celtic spirtuality and how one of the positive contributions this way of thinking makes is the idea of continuous prayer. Not continuous begging, but looking for God in each activity that we do. And thanking him for the flowers you see on a walk or the fact that you are healthy enough to clean your own house or that you have sufficient food choices that grocery shopping is available to you. Some of these seem like REALLY stretching to put a silver lining on unpleasant activities, but they do highlight this idea of bringing God into everything. I have to admit I'm intimidated by this approach because I think I'll end up praying about not praying again.

I'm not sure where I am going with this or how to wrap this entry up. It started because I wanted to validate What Now's sence that a rich and rewarding prayer life is difficult to maintain. I feel like I'm talking myself into trying prayer again as a Lenten discipline, but maybe also in a lower stress way than I have in the past. Lent starts today so I guess I need to get started if I'm going to try it. We'll see how it goes.
Great post. I like reading about other people's spiritual practices and beliefs. It makes me think about my own.

When I was a kid, Lent always seemed such a negative time. I like all these positive approaches.
Hypatia, Thanks for continuing this interesting conversation. I totally understand what you mean about finding learning easier than praying; I actually flirted for a few minutes with the idea of taking as my Lenten discipline reading this history of the Episcopal Church that I got last year and haven't yet read, and then I suddenly realized that this would be all about intellectual engagement but not about spiritual discipline!

I too often prefer liturgical, scripted prayer to spontaneous prayer; the current way I'm going about adding prayer to my life during Lent is using Hour by Hour, which is a short daily office for every day of the week (that is, Monday morning, noon, evening, and compline, Tuesday morning, etc.), published by Forward Movement Publications, an office of the Episcopal Church. I'm not trying to do all four offices every day; just once a day, and at any point during the day. (I'm trying to make this easy!)

All of which is to say that if praying the same thing every day works for you sometimes, I'd encourage you to go with it. You'd be part of a long Christian tradition, and I often try to imagine the "clouds of witnesses" and "all the saints" praying with me--turning individual prayer into collective prayer. (Then again, this may be why I became an Episcopalian!)
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Once upon a time, long before the celts, a Hindu Monk took a bowl of milk up the hill to the shrine, to make his daily offering to the Gods and Goddesses.

Every day of his life, he made this trip, walking past the poor beggars, and putting the bowl of milk at the foot of the idols as he prayed.

Then one day, while deep in holy meditation, it occured to him that if the Gods and Goddessess created the world, then everything in the world is in fact an expression of Divine Creation.

He realized that he did not need to be a monk, or wear priestly robes, or go to the temple to connect with the divine. All he had to do was be aware that he himself, and everything around him was all part of this divine canvas of artistic creation, made by the Gods.

So he lept up from his prayer, grabbed his bowl of milk, ran outside into the street, and gave the milk to a beggar.

The other monks gasped at his act of sacrilage. "What are you doing?" they cried.

"I am witnessing God being poured into God." replied the Enlightened One.

With that, he knelt down and began to worship the grass.
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