Monday, March 21, 2005

Resistance to a disciplined prayer life

The discipline of praying the Daily Office, that this community sees as at the center of its life, is both rewarding and difficult to keep. Since we all have jobs and responsibilities outside of the community we have often found that even coming together for evening prayer does not happen. Yet, the structure is there for us to come back to, and we do.
As I have reflected on the experience of our community both our rules commitment to a disciplined prayer life as central to our community life and our failure to live into that aspect of our rule, I wonder if it is simply life and work outside the community that gets in the way, or is it also that on some level even we who have committed to a certain discipline resist the discipline of prayer?
I know this resistance in myself, it is subtle, and it almost always manifests in a dismissive voice you don't have time to stop and pray today (or you need a few extra minutes of sleep). I am amazed at how often I listen to those voices, especially since as a spiritual director I know the source of those voices, and I encourage those who come to me to keep to their prayer disciplines even with time seems tight. I also, know from my experience in the community and in spiritual direction that resistance to the discipline of prayer increases even as we experience the spiritual benefits. I also know from experience that one cannot always sense those benefits, prayer can be dry, discipline can simply seem repetitive.
My work outside the community is as a temporary worker, and in the last few months I have not had any temporary assignments from my agencies. This time has been a gift of struggling to live fully into the rhythm of prayer our rule commits us to. Some days I get caught up in work in the community or with the work of church I help pastor, and I forget entirely to stop and pray during the mid day hours. Or I fail to get up for morning prayer. But there are also days and weeks where I have kept the discipline allowed my self to flow with the rhythms of the daily office. What I have found is that as I enter into this discipline, there is a clarity that I do not find when I fail to live into this discipline. In keeping a discipline of prayer I find I am less likely to have feelings of being overwhelmed by things, and by my responsibilities.
The discipline of prayer orients our lives, puts our work, our relationships, our recreation into proper perspective. God, and a relationship with God, is the source of all that we do and are, without disciplining ourselves to sit and wait upon God to lift up ourselves and our world to him, we tend to get caught in self reliance and we fail to recognize that all we are and have come from God.
In allowing a discipline of prayer have prominence and dominate my schedule, over these months I have found that I do not lack the time for the work I need and want to do. I am also clearer about what does and does not need to be done and I have more energy for the tasks that come my way. Now if only I can remember this everyday, and our community can enter more fully into the discipline of prayer we say is central to our life as a community.


Scott said...

Larry, thank you for posting about this just now. The less-disciplined times you mention are common for me lately. Personally, I often find it hard to focus on prayer, and I sabotage it by trying to pray near distractions, or lying down (and inevitably dozing off). The Daily Office is one of my favorite things to do and to study, but I struggle with distractions. Part of this, also, is the distraction of having many versions of the Office at hand and getting delusions about committing myself to a full monastic office, which is of course very difficult to keep up. As a Benedictine oblate, I keep having the feeling I should pray more psalms than our parish/BCP office calls for, and I suppose nothing is preventing me from adopting a different psalm scheme. But all my oblation asks of me is to keep the discipline of daily morning and evening prayer, and my many distractions and short-lived efforts as "doing something fancy" with the office often subvert that simple rule of prayer. That said, in Holy Week I'm trying to keep in step with the Sisters of St. Anne, whose convent is next to our church, in their fivefold office from the Monastic Diurnal Revised. Vespers and Compline often get lost in evening activities, though. Scott the Younger and I last night prayed BCP Evening Prayer the way our parish office is structured, and I don't know why this rich office can't be my daily discipline. I find myself being moved by and entering into the office, and encountering God for heaven's sake, when I keep to the simpler, one-book office offered by our Book of Common Prayer (with Bible attached). Then I start yearning again for the connection to monastics past and present that more elaborate schemes provide. What a mess sometimes...perhaps it's all good. But the tough discipline for me is to keep it simple and therefore doable...and enter into the psalmody, the listening, and the praying.

Larry Kamphausen said...

I am glad you found this post helpful.
Yes, I think simplicity is good in keeping the discipline of prayer. Our community usese Taize prayer book for our morning and Evening prayer. and our noon day service is simple drawing from various sources.
As you say thought the important thing isn't the amount of psalms said but that we enter into it and listen and pray. It is these very things that I find I resist.
So, I would encourage you to keep to the call or your oblation and not attempt to do more than it asks. Enter into what you have. That is enough of a challenge, I have found.