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Life is tough. Nuns are tougher.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

If At First You Don't Succeed

But this raises a related question for me. I have been trying to be faithful to at least morning and evening prayer. You say "You only do it wrong when it becomes rote or thoughtless." And I wonder, what is the difference between reading the Office and praying it? I asked Father after Mass once and he sort of mumbled something about intent and said I should be able to tell the difference. But I can't tell! If I'm reading the words with the intent to pray, but I don't 'feel' anything while I'm reading them, is that still prayer? And sometimes, I notice that I've gotten distracted, and I go back to the point I last remember being attentive... I've been operating on the assumption that I should continue regardless of the way I feel, because otherwise it makes the prayer more about me than about God, you know? But Father's comment that "I should be able to tell" disturbed me. Maybe I really *am* off track.

I should add that I chat with God inside my head throughout my day. I think that's prayer, too, so hopefully my attempts at the Divine Office aren't my only prayer.

Anyway, anything you could say to shed some light on this would be appreciated. I'm a convert and I often feel clueless, but I want to pray well to express to God the indescribable gratitude I feel every day.

It's not rocket science. And it's not about feelings. It can be. But praying isn't about evoking emotions.  Spiritual ecstasies aside, prayer is a conversation with God, a connection with God, so that you can receive His grace.

So if you and I were having a conversation and you somehow managed to keep talking while you were distracted with something else, it's not much of a conversation. What if I just suddenly blabbed out one of my distracted thought while I was talking with you?

"It has come to light from recently published documents that the CIA actually promoted artists like Jackson Pollock during the Cold War to show the world, but particularly Russia, that the United States of America was on the cutting edge of everything, including art."

While this is a true statement, it has nothing to do with you and me and our conversation. It's fascinating, though, isn't it?  I've been thinking a lot about it lately.

I understand that the mind wanders.  I'd like to say "don't beat yourself up about it."  So I'll go ahead and say that.

Don't beat yourself up about it. Not because it doesn't matter or because it's normal or expected. Don't beat yourself up because doing that is a waste of time. Beating yourself up serves no purpose whatsoever in this matter. (In other ares of life, it might be a good idea to give yourself a talking to, a finger wag, or a boot to the head. But not about this.)

Move forward. Do better. Don't dwell on your past failure. Concentrate on redoubling your efforts.

Imagine you were reading me a passage from a book you enjoyed. You would be engaged in the words you were saying.  What makes saying these prayers any different from that? Perhaps you simply need to say your prayers out loud.

It takes some discipline to pull your mind back if and when it wanders. I frankly find these questions about prayer to be rather like questions about dieting. We'd all love to find some magical diet or pill that allows us to eat as much of anything that we want and do little or no exercise. But that is never going to happen. If we want to maintain a healthy weight we're going to have to have a little discipline.

If you think of your prayers as a conversation with God, you actually should be able to tell whether or not you are having one, don't you think? You can tell when you're having a conversation with someone, right?

Good old Maya Angelou went home to God yesterday. (I'm not wandering off, I'm about to make a point.) She said once that when she went to write (she kept a hotel room in any town in which she lived and would go there every day at 6am), she began by clearing her mind of everything: what happened yesterday, whatever was on her mind, what happened on the drive over. She brought herself to the present. She mentioned that she didn't really know how she did this.

I'm suggesting that you do this somehow. Take a few deep breaths. Bring yourself into the present moment. You are connected with God. You are a part of Him. You don't have to feel anything. It's already there and happening. Read the prayer to Him.

If you can't maintain any concentration, stop. Try again later. Try again tomorrow.  The ability to focus and concentrate is a muscle. I'm sure you use it in other areas of your life. You  just have to train it to this use. Beating yourself up about it is a waste of energy. Do better. If you don't do better, try again.

Monday, May 19, 2014

The Divine New Math and the Litgury of the Kitchen Table

 Sister, I have a question for you. I am looking to deepen my commitment to the faith by reciting the Divine Office. But I don't know where to begin—literally. Or for that matter, how to get
through the middle and make it to the end, I have seen the four-book set for the Liturgy of the Hours, but having tried to get through it once, I became thoroughly lost. Do you know of any website or other resource that can explain how to do it? Also, can you explain a little about the Little Office of the Virgin Mary. It seems much less confusing. Is that an acceptable substitute for a lay person, or is it meant as a supplement to be said in addition to, rather than instead of, the regular Liturgy of the Hours? Any help you can give is appreciated. —A faithful reader.

Oh, I feel your pain. Explaining the Divine Office and the Liturgy of the Hours reminds me of when I was a little girl and my mother would help me with my math. I couldn't understand any of it and it just sounded like....she may as well have been speaking Greek or Lithuanian or some sort of gibberish made by mixing them together. Eventually, I would cry. I couldn't help myself. It was all so hopeless.

I don't mean to imply that the Divine Office is gibberish. But I agree that explanations I have read are nearly indecipherable. I tell you this to assure you that you are not alone in feeling lost and overwhelmed.

So, I did a little research for you, figuring the internet tubes are the best way to find a simple explanation, or a set of guidelines that anyone could understand. And here's what you're up against:
What is the Divine Office?

It starts out pleasantly enough, but ultimately makes me want to cry. There was a point where my eyes glazed over, kept working, but shut off any information from traveling from my eyeballs to my brain.

So I tried that vast store of information for the informationally challenged, Wikipedia.  And lo and behold! It actually has a fairly succinct and understandable explanation. Because even though I actually pray the Liturgy of the Hours, I could never have laid it all out and explained it like that without reducing you to a crying little girl at the kitchen table trying to comb through long division while hobbled with the new method of teaching math known as "new math".

But it does bog down a bit when it starts to explain what to do. I got worried that if you have four books of what to do and can't figure that out, Wikipedia isn't going to iron that out for you.

Let's stop for one moment and say, please don't become obsessed with doing it "right". Of course, it would be lovely for you to pray the way you're "supposed to", because the Church has gone through great pains over centuries to formulate the Liturgy of the Hours and the prayers and when you say them and what you read and sing and therefore think about.

But in the end you're praying. Period. It's very difficult to do that wrong. You'd have to really work at that. Praying is talking to God. You only do it wrong when it becomes rote and/or thoughtless. And to that end, you might do just as well to just pray during the appointed hours, rather than to mumble out a bunch of stuff you don't understand while you quietly worry about that new weird sound your car is making.

The real thrust of the Liturgy of the Hours, is that the whole Church (or as much of it as we can muster) is praying together around the clock and the power and grace that may produce for the world.

But I persevered. The internet, with all its problems, misinformation and sinful imagery, is also a wonderful place full of useful information, explanations, understandable charts and the like.


That should help you. You won't have to juggle four books and you clearly know how to use the internet. Voila (as the French say).

Let us know if this works for you!