In the world but not of the world...
As a working father of 3 children aged 12, 10 and 7 and a coach of their sports 12 months of the year, finding quiet time is often impossible. I understand that this time in my life will pass quickly and time for "me" runs second at present to commitments in employment,family, community and a healthy lifestyle. I am quite content with this. Before the children are up and after they go to bed are the best times for me to steal some quiet time for prayer and reflection. Having said that though, two of my favorite times with my family are attending mass together and sharing our evening meal together which includes each one of us taking turns to pray and give thanks for our sustenance. Teaching my children to pray is very important to me and we switch between devotional type prayers to petitions and even prayerful discussion. Our family also has "meaning of life" type discussion questions posted on the wall that we often turn to during dinner.
I am a person who sometimes finds it difficult to leave behind the challenges and stresses of the working day so after I get out of the car each night and before I enter the house of homework, dinner preparation, friends of my children over to play and general mayhem, I like to concentrate on my breathing and walk around my garden. Pulling some weeds, pruning a bush, raking some leaves or cleaning up the ard are often the best quiet times I have to think of the things most important in my life. Being in my garden reminds me of the wonder and awe in God's presence that is a gift of the Holy Spirit. I also feel this way on holidays with our family when we hike mountains together, walk beaches together, take bike rides together and in general spend intentional time with nature in silence. Challenging children to remain quiet and listen to God's world around them is difficult.
Perhaps the most rewarding quiet time of prayer for me is immediately after receiving the Eucharist at mass. I like to close my eyes and give thanks for all that is good in my life. I have a routine of beginning my prayer for those sitting beside me in the pew, namely my wife and 3 children. I pray for all my childhood influences... family, friends, every parish I have belonged to, coaches, and those who have died; I work my way through 40 plus years of memories and influences. Having been a Catholic elementary and high school teacher for close to 20 years, I have many different faith communities on my prayer list. Furthermore, I presently work for a charity in Melbourne, Australia that feeds the marginalized (www.ozharvest.com) and I encounter homeless, prostitutes, street kids and the vulnerable most days; so the people I meet are constantly in my prayers. I pray in my car for those I see who look like they need a prayer. I give thanks to God each night when I kiss my children good night as they are sleeping. Living a life of gratitude must be intentional and purposeful. Finally, I have a mantra that I repeat to myself silently many times a day. "God, let me see the light... and give me your grace to follow the light when I see it."Paul McMahon, Melbourne, Australia, email@example.com
An Ignatian spirituality
I have found, as a husband and as the father of 3 children, that my practices of silence as a young man are bearing fruit in middle age. I have been steeped in Ignatian spirituality since my college years and have often taught, written, and spoken about it, so the wisdom of Father Ignatius has seeped into my daily life. Primarily, I see practices such as the Examen— reviewing the day, looking for where God has been in it— to be foundational. I simply cannot live in the frenetic pace of work, husbanding, and fathering without feeling a craving for silence.
I find it in several places, because my schedule precludes being able to always find it in the same place. After dropping off my eleven year-old daughter at her Catholic school, I stop in the church to pray a Hail Mary and spend time in Eucharistic contemplation. I will sometimes seize a few minutes after waking up to collect myself and offer the day's work to my Lord. I will take moments waiting in line or at the doctor's office to finger the beads of the rosary I carry in my pocket. I will offer silent intercessory prayers while at my desk, reading a news story of places where there is need. I will write an email to my wife or children, saying how much I love them. I will read the daily reflection from dotMagis, an Ignatian spirituality blog to which I contribute—even reading my own posts to see if I am living up to what I had earlier discovered in prayer. I will pray during long bike rides or cutting the lawn— any physical activity that allows me to sustain a mental conversation with God.
I have found that for those who are not monks—of whom I am sometimes jealous, and whose monasteries I need to seek out every now and again, as if to return to a spiritual home— seeking silence takes work. But it is work that arises from a deep and lasting need, very much like my need for physical exercise to clean the cobwebs out of my muscles. A life lived for others is a demanding life, constantly calling me outside of myself. But the Holy Spirit recalls me, asking me to tend the soil where grow the seeds of the Word. I must find silence, sleep, exercise, recreation, and adult conversation if those seeds are to grow into love, compassion, generosity, even heroism for my family and others around me.
Tim Muldoon, firstname.lastname@example.org
In love with the prayer of hymns
As a Baptist I am drawn in prayer to words, to the images and ideas toward which they gesture, drawing close to the mysteries of life and of God to bring them into awareness and so, as R.P. Blackmur put it, “add(ing) to the stock of available reality.” Of course Scripture and liturgy are the principal sources for these words, this greater reality. I read Scripture set by the daily lectionary (BCP) with my family at the breakfast table to begin the day. The prayer form which I most regularly practice are the daily office with a period of Lectio Divina included in it (my goal being daily, and ideally morning and evening though, the ideal is not realized as often as I wish, and even the minimum not attained far more often than I wish). To sit with, to be immersed (no Baptist pun intended) in the cadences and phrases of the prayers and Scripture, and the mystery near to which they draw without depleting the mystery in any way, is an unspeakable joy and source of great strength whether by way of comfort or judgment. I also try as often as possible to read poetry, particularly that which explores faith and belief. My meditative reading each Advent is supplied by W.H. Auden’s For the Time Being. And I am rendered silent by John Betjeman’s, “And is it true, This most tremendous tale of all, . . . The Maker of the stars and sea Become a Child on earth for me? . . . For if it is, . . . No carolling in frosty air, . . . Can with this single Truth compare - That God was man in Palestine And lives today in Bread and Wine.”
Music has also been a significant aspect of Baptist spirituality. Hymns and chants unite mind and body, image and affect, spirit and world (a number of 19th century Baptist hymnals contained Psalms and canticles for chanting). Three aspects come to mind. Chanting the Psalms integrates them into one’s life in ways that reading alone does not. The joining of music and words creates an alchemy, truly, that defies description or summation. It is powerfully formative. Often we find the depiction of articles of faith in ways that surpass even the evocative power of the words. For some reason, as I write this, I think of “He will come again to judge the living and the dead” and of all I have read in eschatology and theology of hope, and Charles Wesley’s great hymn, “Lo, He Comes With Clouds Descending” (tune: Helmsley). I cannot imagine my devotional life without the great hymns of the Church, happily the reality in which there is greatest overlap between Protestant and Catholic traditions. My faith is also nurtured, my soul also nourished, by the musical component of this combination. None has done this better than Ralph Vaughan Williams, an avowed agnostic who I hope still named, if differently, the holy mystery his music discloses. I have in mind as I write that the two occurrences of “Emmanuel! God with us!” in Ralph Vaughan Williams’s Hodie. In the first, one hears the Word descend incarnate into the muck and roil of human existence. In the second, one hears the exaltation of the Risen Son.
Words and songs come together above all in the worship of the gathered community, persons of faith who seek help for their faith, believers seeking help for unbelief. Rather than explain, I’ll simply share an experience. In the summer of 2006, I was waiting to be admitted to the grounds of Christ Church College, Oxford. I was going to the Sung Eucharist. Waiting, I heard the strains of contemporary worship music wafting through the air. Concerned, (forgive me) I thought surely it was not from the Cathedral. I realized soon the sounds were from St. Aldate’s across the street. I went over and looked in. There were perhaps five hundred or more, all ages, all races, hands raised in praise of God. I realized, “This is what the Kingdom of God looks like.” I went to Eucharist at Christ Church Cathedral. The introit was Ralph Vaughan Williams’s “O, Taste and See How Gracious the Lord Is.” “This,” I thought, “is what the Kingdom sounds like.” I expect, however, the diversity of the congregation at St. Aldate’s will find musical representation as well. In various ways, all of this is with me, operating in memory, with each time I enter into prayer. And as Alyosha Karamazov says, with slightly different reference, "And even if only one good memory remains with us in our hearts, that alone may serve some day for our salvation."
Philip E. Thompson,
2. How inspiring is silent time at church, the homilies, the liturgies?
3. What have you found to be most useful to you (morning vs. evening, reading vs. meditating, thoughts vs. affects, alone vs. in community, etc.)?
4. Do you have the opportunity to share your spiritual experiences with friends or a small group?