Prayer is a subversive activity. It involves a more or less open act of defiance against any claim by the current regime. Eugene Peterson: The Contemplative Pastor, p.10
The ‘claim of the current regime’ is multiple and multiply overwhelming:
- improve: today’s achievement is never good enough tomorrow (something I learnt from working in the NHS);
- respond instantly to phone, text and email;
- keep up with the new (the new series on TV or the next episode of the current interest; the new gadget or the upgrade to the one you already have).
The claim of the current regime conspires to keep us from recollection. There are always reasons not to pray. The persuasive sophistry of the heart-and-mind is endlessly inventive.
Here’s what I have learned about prayer in a busy life.
- Find the ‘Why?’. Ignatius would say, “What is your desire? Trust that.” What draws you to prayer? What do you hope to get from it? When you know that, and you want it enough, you will be more motivated and creative in finding the way.
- Cultivate the habit of feeling into this body. This is crucial. It is why this experiment in writing is called ‘this body’. It takes but a minute: relax; settle into yourself; learn what it feels like to be yourself, in your right mind-and-body, aware, however dimly, of God. Practise this time and again. This is prayer. Once you get used to this is can be done anywhere. This single habit of coming home to yourself-and-God will help all the others.
- Pray while travelling. My week involves travelling by train, metro, bus and walking. For sure, it’s not ideal. It’s noisy. It’s cramped. It’s inhuman. There aren’t always seats. There are frequent interruptions to concentration. But (and it is a big but) there is no escape, which is a gift. There is nowhere else to go; nothing needs to be done. Pray sitting or standing; feel into this body; address God and listen. Walking is a prayer of presence on the Earth, matched to the rhythm of the breath or the words of a repeated prayer.
- Do not wait for the ‘right time’. Do not be tempted to put off praying until the circumstances are right. This is a fool’s counsel and I am guilty of listening to it too often. There is no right time for prayer; the circumstances are always less than perfect. Truth be told, every moment is right. It only takes a moment, so do it now. Noise does not matter. (I learnt this from Muslims at prayer when I was a hospital chaplain. They are unconcerned by people talking or stacking chairs or by the rituals of other traditions.)
- Make a habit of momentary prayer: a turn within, however brief, is a turn to God and a turn to prayer:
- 1 second is enough.
- Pray when waiting at the traffic lights (hand-brake engaged; hands in your lap; feet on the floor), the checkout queue, the ATM, the bus stop…
- Pray for those around you: it opens the heart; they are your sisters and brothers.
- Reminders I: put up a post-it on the mirror, a picture on your screen-saver; have a repeating entry in your to-do list; use a few words of prayer as your computer password.
- Reminders II: carry something in your pocket – a prayer rope or rosary, a stone, a knotted handkerchief, a holding cross.
- Negotiate. Tell your children you want a bit of time for yourself. Talk to you partner. Take turns to have a few minutes out.
- Pray on-line or with your iPod. There are good websites out there that will work on any Internet-connected device: Sacred Space or pray-as-you-go are good examples.
- Seek out quiet places in the day and in the environs:
- Get up 5 minutes early
- Pray on the toilet. The boss can’t get you there (though, if you have very young children, even the toilet is no retreat!)
- Take time out in parks or churches or libraries, perhaps on the way to and from work.
- Reduce TV & Internet as relaxation. They are the biggest time-sucks around. Pray during the adverts: they are the ‘claim of the current regime’ par excellence.
- Pray in bed as you drift off to sleep. It is a perfect time to think back over the day and feel you way into this body.
None of these is ideal. I’d rather sit in a silent, beautiful room, with time on my hands. Life is never ideal – though some would say it is always ideal. When I have changed the things I can, it is a test of character to learn to live with the reality that this is “as good as it gets.”
Where there is intention, God is unhampered by distraction.
What are your interstices for prayer? Please leave a reply to share your wisdom on this.