Thursday, September 17, 2009

Column: Prayer and Patience

I learned about writing reminders on the mirror from Crash - who started writing his list there when he started high school. On the long retreat, I wrote my schedule on the mirror in my room - principally the graces sought in the exercises of the day.

This column appeared in the Catholic Standard and Times on 17 September 2009.

Pray without ceasing. — 1 Th. 5:17

The reminder taped to the kitchen door read “cake.” My lunch? Hung on the doorknob. The phone rings. Can Victor bring Chris his trombone at the bus stop? He forgot. Mike plops onto a chair in my study, “Did you remember to put money in my lunch account?”

With four of us starting back to classes at three different schools, lists and notes are tacked everywhere from the back door to the bathroom mirror. Until it all becomes routine, I need the prompts. Case in point, the bright yellow sticky note on my binder notwithstanding, I arrived at my class today to find I left the problem set for my class behind in my office.

Maybe the unfamiliarity with the routine life of a Christian community is what impelled Paul, Silvanus and Timothy to end their letter to the newly formed Church at Thessalonica with their version of a to-do list for the community: Be at peace. Care for the weak. Be patient with everyone. Pray constantly.

Maybe I should tape this list to the door? Paul’s rapid-fire words of advice — a style scripture scholar Calvin Roetzel colorfully dubbed “shotgun parenesis” — seem to fit my life these days. Short and to the point, I don’t need the details right now, just the reminder. For all things give thanks to God. Hold onto what is good.

As the pace of life picks up, I need to cultivate patience, peace and unceasing prayer more than ever. But what will it take for me to remember to pray, not off and on throughout my day but as Paul advises, incessantly? Somehow I think sticky notes will not do the trick.

Maybe it would just take a small reminder? Benedictine monk Bede Thomas Mudge says of his experience of wearing his prayer beads, “The feeling of having the beads on my wrist is an almost constant reminder to prayer.” Brother Bede also writes about what happens when he forgets to put his beads on one day, realizing that their absence prodded him to pray just as effectively.

Or maybe what I need is the absence of a reminder in a life overflowing with them? Perhaps when I feel most frazzled, when I long the most for patience and peace, conceivably that longing itself, like Brother Bede’s absentee beads, is my prompt for prayer.

The anonymous 14th century English author of a classic guide to the mystical life, “The Cloud of Unknowing,” had this advice about prayer: “Let your longing relentlessly beat upon the cloud of unknowing that lies between you and your God.” So it could be that my relentless longing for peace is an incessant prayer to God. But to be sure, I scribbled a note on my mirror. Prayer, patience, peace.

Blessed be your name, O Lord, you are the fount and source of every blessing, and you look with delight upon the devout practices of the faithful. Draw near, we pray, to these your servants and, as they use this symbol of their faith and devotion, grant that they may also strive to be transformed into the likeness of Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you for ever and ever. Amen. — Prayer of Blessing of religious articles


  1. I just had to tell you that although I always like your work, I LOVE your upcoming column in the CS&T.

    And by the way -- I think you are far braver than I am:
    1) I had a parachute when I jumped
    2) You watched your child jump

    I honestly don't think I could do that.

  2. Thanks!!

    I agree (2) is really hard -- but parachute or no, jumping out of a plane is a brave business!

    I'll have to post the photo...

  3. Excellent article. Thanks for posting it.