Monday, November 30, 2015

Discipline in Prayer


(Sometime last year I posted a list of 55 Precepts for Christian Living by Fr. Thomas Hopko. I have seen the list circulated quite a bit since then and I recently came across the suggestion of journaling through each item on the list. I thought that was a wonderful suggestion and, as I considered doing it, I decided that I'd like to share some of my thoughts here.)

It seems to me that numbers 2 and 3 are tied together in a way:

2. Pray as you can, not as you think you must.
3. Have a keep-able rule of prayer done by discipline.

I think most of us are familiar with what it's like to impose things on ourselves that are more than we can actually bear, whether it be rules, expectations (both real and imagined), morality, responsibility or what have you. These self-imposed obligations have a tendency to become overwhelming and oppressive, leading to feelings of despair and helplessness. They can lead one into legalism and a false piety which can be dangerous steps down the path of pride.

So to say "pray as you can, not as you think you must", requires that I look closely at what is truly within my power and what is not. So often when I read about the lives of the Saints I imagine how wonderful it must be to be capable of such great feats of prayer as they are and I wish that I were in a place to emulate their lives more closely. However, the reality is that I am not in a situation in which I can spend hours at prayer. I have the responsibilities of a wife and homeschooling mom. I cannot shirk those duties in order to go pray just so that I can feel good about myself. That's pride, plain and simple. And it's foolish. I have been given responsibilities and I am called to fulfill them.

Since I do not have unlimited time for prayer I have to look at how much time I can actually set aside for prayer without wearing myself out with a long, drawn-out rule that makes me dread rather than welcome my prayer time.

The reality is that I am only able to do so much. There are a finite number of hours in each day and I can only fit into those hours what I am able to and no more. This actually ties right in to the third precept, "have a keep-able rule of prayer done by discipline". Because the hours in each day are limited, and because I have to make time for those things which are most important, it is necessary to be disciplined in all of my actions, including prayer.

It may sound like I am trying to find a way to box up my prayers and fit them neatly into a corner of the day so that I can check prayer off my list of things to do. I do not set aside x number of minutes for prayer and then go about the rest of the day without another thought for God (see post 1 in this series). But the discipline of having a time set aside for prayer is an essential thing, because if I don't make the time, then often it doesn't happen. Because the truth is that some times I simply don't feel like praying.

Sometimes I am distracted by other things.

Sometimes I am tired.

Sometimes I am angry.

Sometimes I am annoyed, or tired, or restless, or bored.

Sometimes I am not in the "mood" to pray. But if I can have the self-control it takes to dedicate a set time every day to prayer, then regardless of my current emotions I can still grow in my relationship with Christ. Because that's how relationships develop: they are built upon time spent together. It's really not possible to cultivate a deep relationship if one is not willing to dedicate the time it takes. What matters is that I set aside the time for prayer regardless of how I feel.

Sometimes the time spent together is wonderful and exhilarating. Other times it's more mundane and ho-hum. Sometimes it's difficult to be together, and other times it's wonderful. Sometimes it's comfortable, other times is very uncomfortable. But the feelings are not the important thing at all. What is important is that I keep the discipline and say the prayers.

I have to keep it real. I have to know my limits and accept them in order to work within them rather than against them. I must have a rule of prayer that I am able to keep regularly and without burning myself out and I must stick with it whether I feel like it or not.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

A Day in the Life

Sometime last year I posted a list of 55 Precepts for Christian Living by Fr. Thomas Hopko. I have seen the list circulated quite a bit since then and I recently came across the suggestion of journaling through each item on the list. I thought that was a wonderful suggestion and, as I considered doing it, I decided that I'd like to share some of my thoughts here.

First on the list: Be always with Christ and trust God in everything.

Most of the time I am not aware of His presence. Most of the time I'm thinking about other things. In fact, most of the time I forget about Him altogether. But sometimes I do make an effort to remember, and I do make an effort to pray, and He has blessed my efforts tremendously. I can't say that I am always with Christ, but I am trying to learn how to be with Him, looking forward to the day when I really can be always with Him.

I've always thought it would be fun to do a "day in the life" kind of post. So I've done that below and tried to show what my efforts to be with Christ look like most days. I lose my temper, and I often forget about prayer for hours on end. But the following is fairly accurate snapshot of my days:

___________________________

6:00am: Wake and glance at the clock. Everyone is still sleeping and I contemplate getting up to say my prayers.

6:01am: Thump, thump. Pitter-patter. Pitter-patter.

"Mama! Can I lay with you?"

Lord, have mercy. "Yes, come on this side."

Rustle, rustle. Squirm, squirm. Whisper, whisper.

"Mama, is G awake?"

"No. Lay down or you have to go back to your bed."

Silence.

6:35am: Rustle, rustle. Whisper, whisper. Baby G starts squirming. I roll over to nurse him and hope he'll fall back asleep. Rustle, rustle. Now it's both of them. J and I smile and coo at G, while he squirms and smiles. I notice that the sheet is a little wet. I guess that means I have to change a diaper.

6:50am: I get dressed and light a candle to say my prayers. 

O Heavenly King, O Comforter, the Spirit of Truth....

Thump, thump. Pitter, patter.

"Mama, can I lay by G?"

"Yes, M. Go ahead."

Our Father, Who art in  Heaven...

"M!!!!! I WAS PLAYING WITH HIM!!!!"

"MAMAAA! J is hitting me!!!!

Lord, Jesus Christ...
"You can both be next to him. Be gentle."

Lord, Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.

7:03am: I finish my attempted prayers and pick up G to get ready to head downstairs. I barely make it from my bedroom into the hallway before I have to break up another fight.

Lord, Jesus Christ, have mercy on me. Help me to make it through this day. Give me strength. Give me grace. Lord, have mercy.

7:55am: After opening the blinds, starting breakfast and many interrupted attempts to check email, breaking up more fights, facilitating dressing and chores among the girls everyone is finally sitting down to breakfast. G is playing somewhat happily on the floor, but I can tell he's still tired - he hadn't been quite ready to wake up yet.

Thud, thud, thud, thud, thud. 

"Good morning, S."

"Morning."

8:00am: S sits down to breakfast. I take a few bites of my own oatmeal and try to quickly read the Bible readings from the lectionary for the day.

"ROAAAAR!"

"S!!!!!!!!! STOP IT!!!!! AHHHHH!!!!"

Lord, have mercy. 

"S! Stop right now! Leave her alone. Are you done eating? Go get your chores done.

For once there's no whining and complaining.

8:15am: S is doing his chores and we have a short interval of relative quiet. I try to get dishes done and have M do her kitchen chores. I have to call her several times, but she finally comes and wipes the table.

"M. Come back and sweep please."

Whine, whine, whine. Stomp, stomp, stomp. 

Lord, Jesus Christ, have mercy on me. Give me patience. 

8:30am: S is back downstairs and I inform him and the girls that they have about an hour of free time before we'll be starting school. I wrap up G, who's clearly ready for a nap, and try to get him to fall asleep as I move about, starting laundry, checking done-ness of chores, and getting ready for the school day.

Lord, Jesus Christ, have mercy on me. 
Lord, Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.
Lord, Jesus Christ, have mercy on me. 

9:00am: I try to sneak in a few minutes of time online. G is almost asleep. Once he's all the way sleeping I lay him down in his crib.

Crash! 

Lord, have mercy! 

I rush downstairs and to find out what the noise was and angrily tell everyone to be quiet because G is sleeping.

9:20am: G is awake. I go get him out of his crib, nurse him and then gather everyone for morning prayers.

"O Heavenly King..."

Poke. Pinch. Giggle. Squirm. 

Lord, have mercy. 

"Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal..."

"Mama, will you hold me?"

"O Lord, save Thy people and bless Thine inheritance..."

"Mama, she pushed me!"

"Rejoice, O Virgin, Theotokos..."

We settle down to do our Morning Basket time. About every couple minutes someone interrupts or complains, or says they're hungry.

Lord, Jesus Christ, have mercy on me. 

10:15am: We finish Morning Basket and everyone scatters while we have a break. G is back asleep and I try to clean up the table a little bit so we have room for other books and papers.

Lord, Jesus Christ, have mercy on me. 
Lord, Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.
Lord, Jesus Christ, have mercy on me. 

11:00am: G is asleep again. I start working with X on her school work, and remind S that he ought to start his list too. I go back and forth between helping X and M, while J quietly plays or sits on my lap and S is busy not doing his school work. I remind him several times that he needs to start too.

Lord, Jesus Christ....

12noon: Before we know it it's time for lunch. G is awake and everyone is hungry. I send them outside for a few minutes while I get lunch ready. J wants to be my helper. We make some sandwiches and call everyone in for lunch.

Our Father, Who art in Heaven...

Lunch is eaten. Children talk and tease. I try to steal a few minutes of quiet.

"AHHH! S, STOP RIGHT NOW!!!

"Mom, I wasn't doing anything!"

Lord, have mercy. 

"Mama, M is trying to dip her sandwich in my milk!!!!!"

Giggle, giggle. 

"That's not funny!"

"Stop, M."

Lord, have mercy. 

The day continues. We finish school work, G takes another nap or two. I try to find time to sit and snuggle with J and M. I try to listen while X tells me about her newest drawing. I try not to criticize and nag at S, even though he constantly seems to be trying to push the girls' buttons. Every so often there is an interval of quiet. I try to stop and take a breath.

Breathe in, Lord, Jesus Christ

Breathe out, have mercy on me. 

Lord, Jesus Christ, have mercy on me. 
Lord, Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.
Lord, Jesus Christ, have mercy on me. 

3:00pm: School is done, my husband is getting ready to leave for work. Everyone gives him a hug and kiss goodbye and goes back to what they were doing.

Lord, Jesus Christ, have mercy on me. 

Laundry needs to be folded.

Lord, have mercy.

Dinner needs to be started.

Lord, Jesus...

6:30pm: Dinner is over, the kitchen is cleaned. Many more fights have been broken up, much screaming and general rowdiness has prevailed. It's almost bedtime.

Lord, Jesus Christ, have mercy on me. 

8:00pm: J is asleep. G is almost asleep. S is quiet in his room.

8:10: G is asleep. I lay him down and think that maybe I'll be able to read a little bit before I'm too wiped out to think.

"M!!!! Stop talking!!! I want to go to sleep!"

Giggle, giggle.

"You girls better be quiet up there! Don't wake up G!"

"Mama, M won't stop whispering!"

Lord, have mercy.

"M, no talking, no whispering, no noise at all."

"Ok, Mama."

10:00pm: I realize it's getting late and I should probably get in bed. I shower and enjoy the silence.

Lord, Jesus Christ, have mercy on me. 
Lord, Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.
Lord, Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.

10:30pm: I'm finally ready for bed. I try to say my evening prayers, but I'm half asleep already and I hardly know what I'm saying. I blow out the candle and crawl into bed.

Into Thy hands, O Lord, Jesus Christ, I commend my soul and my body. Do Thou, Thyself, bless me, save me and grant me eternal life. Amen. 

Lord, Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.
Lord, Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.
Lord, Jesus Christ, have mercy on me... 









Monday, November 9, 2015

We Who Mystically Represent the Cherubim

I was standing in church not long ago, singing along during liturgy, and I happened to be paying attention to the words for a brief moment while all my children were still. We were just beginning to sing the Cherubic Hymn, before the Great Entrance.

We, who mystically represent the Cherubim, and who sing the Thrice-Holy Hymn, let us now lay aside all earthly cares. 
I wondered why it is that we represent the Cherubim and promptly concluded that it must be because we sing the hymn,
Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord of Sabaoth... 
I had my pat answer and was ready to move on, when I happened to look at the icon of the Theotokos, which is behind the altar and I started to think about how she became the living Mercy Seat and the abode of God.

And I was suddenly aware that we too become a dwelling place of God when we partake of His precious Body and Blood. And the passage from Exodus came to my mind, in which God commanded Moses to make the Mercy Seat and to place the Cherubim on either end: 
Then you shall make a mercy seat of pure gold; two cubits and a half shall be its length, and a cubit and a half its breadth.  And you shall make two cherubim of gold; of hammered work shall you make them, on the two ends of the mercy seat. Make one cherub on the one end, and one cherub on the other end; of one piece with the mercy seat shall you make the cherubim on its two ends. The cherubim shall spread out their wings above, overshadowing the mercy seat with their wings, their faces one to another; toward the mercy seat shall the faces of the cherubim be. And you shall put the mercy seat on the top of the ark; and in the ark you shall put the testimony that I shall give you. There I will meet with you, and from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim that are upon the ark of the testimony... 
Exodus 25:17-22
My absentminded question led to a connection far deeper than I have words to describe, and I am in awe at the mercy and loving-kindness of our Lord.

Glory to Thee, O Lord, glory to Thee!