SPIRITUAL CONSISTENCY IN THE TIME OF COVID: A BENEDICTINE APPROACH
PART ONE: TOO BUSY TO PRAY?
My name is Bill and I’m a workaholic (Hello Bill). Years ago, good things were happening at my parish. Lots of creative, collaborative and contextual energy was transforming the congregation and we were growing like gangbusters. I was excited and exhilarated. But then, over time, I began to recognize that I was exhausted – so tired, in fact, I thought about retiring – at age 37! I realized that I was running on the fumes of the spirit, my prayer reservoir was drying up, and my spiritual spring had stopped flowing all the way to my soul. I knew that I needed more than a vacation (although vacations are awesome). I needed spiritual renewal. So, I booked a week-long retreat at an Episcopal Benedictine monastery in California.
I immediately settled into their balanced routine of prayer, work, study, and rest. The bell rang five times each day calling us to community prayer. I showed up for all of them, starting at 5:30 a.m. I read each morning and evening in their fabulous library. It was there that I fell in love with the Greek writer Nikos Kazantzakis. I worked on my first book, “The Gospel According to Sam,” for several hours each day. Every afternoon I would either help the brothers with chores or go for a hike in the mountains nearby. After dinner, we observed silence through breakfast the next morning. It’s amazing what you can hear when no one is talking – including yourself.
Their consistent routine, disciplined, grounded in God, centered in prayer and scripture reading, changed me. I went home renewed and recommitted to a more balanced and prayerful beginning (indeed Benedict calls his Rule “a little rule for beginners”). But being the over-achiever that I was (ok, am), I started reading Benedictine spirituality extensively, teaching classes and leading retreats on the topic. I found myself advocating and sharing Benedictine spiritual principles, but failing to live them, failing to stay grounded in God and balanced in my faith. It was easy to return to my old tricks of trying to do too much, and being “too busy to pray.” When that attitude begins to manifest itself, you can be assured that your spiritual priorities are completely out of whack.
During the Pandemic, my salvation has been adhering to a daily routine not unlike that of my monastery friends. I get up at 5:00 every day and usually walk the dogs before 6:00. Being outdoors and getting exercise helps human even more than beast. Later in the morning, Sandy and I observe our devotional time together consistently. We pray and read the Daily Office or we read a chapter from Joan Chittister’s wonderful book on living out the basics of Benedictine spirituality each day. We always conclude with spontaneous prayers of our own. Doing these devotions together has brought us closer to God and to each other, and usually closer to at least one dog who attempts to pray with us!
I admit that there are still some days on which I have a plate that runneth over, days on which there is urgent church planning or imminent parish deadlines requiring long hours and my undivided attention. So I skip out on our prayers because “I have important work that must be done NOW.” Guess what? There is no more important work than spending time with God. And I’ve discovered (again) that on those days when I rush right on through to the tasks at hand, I’m less productive, less creative, and less connected – to my God, to my faith, to my partner, and to myself.
Sister Joan reminds us how taking time to pray transforms us into what God calls us to be: “The function of prayer is to change my own mind, to put on the mind of Christ, to enable grace to break into me….Prayer leads us and leavens us and enlightens us. And changes us. It makes us something bigger than we were.”
It also makes us something better than we were. Routine is not just an antiquated ritual. A daily, disciplined, balanced approach to spirituality that always includes time, place and space for prayer, reflection, listening and meditating on God’s Word and sacred works of those inspired by God – such a consistent schedule changes everything for the better.