Friday, February 1, 2013
Why Having a Prayer Rule is a Great Idea
In the early days, or the "honeymoon" phase as some call it, prayer was a sweet joy for me. Every Sunday, I would pray the Rosary using an online program as a help. I looked forward to it, immersing myself completely in the prayers and the contemplation of the mysteries.
Years later, things are a different story. I read in many works that the early stages of prayer and the Christian life are the sweetest - God grants the soul a brief taste of heaven before seemingly withdrawing. Obviously, I am not stating that I am now in some kind of "dark night of the soul" - frankly, I think that that book of St. John of the Cross is far beyond me to ever understand, unless one day I am somehow incredibly advanced in the spiritual life. His theology and mysticism, I feel, should be treated as the Hymns of St. Symeon the New Theologian in the East - but then, I suppose I wouldn't be reading him at all then.
Regardless, I think there comes a time when some kind of structuring is needed in the prayer life of the serious Christian. I am not saying this as some kind of expert - God knows I am not - but just from my own experience in having a set prayer rule in my own life.
Truly, if we only prayed when we felt like it, when we wanted to, then many of us I think would pray very little. We live in an age of distraction. Everything and anything seems to work against our sitting down with God for a moment or two. As Pascal asks, "When we wish to think of God, is there not something which distracts us and tempts us to think of something else?"1
Though prayer is a wonderful thing when one wants to pray, what about when they do not wish to, do not feel like it, or are exhausted and want to shut down for awhile?
This is where a prayer rule of some kind comes in. With a prayer rule, one wakes up with a beautiful spiritual breakfast readily prepared - all one has to do is eat. But this is easier than it sounds - one does not suddenly wake to delicious breakfast of perfectly scrambled eggs and fresh sausage; they have to prepare it first.
When I awaken for work, sometimes in the wee hours of 3 or 4 in the morning, it is all I can do to simply try and keep my eyes open. Praying a set prayer rule is tough - or beginning it, that is. But once the candle before the crucifix and the icons is lit, once the prayers begin to pour forth, then praying is easy. By the end of praying, one does not want it to end. But the spiritual anchorage is there, and one can face the day easier.
During the day, I take the time to go through the particular lives of the saints of the day and read the Scriptures. This takes very little time - anyone with ten minutes on a coffee break can do this.
In the evening, with a prayer rule in place, one can find the opportunity to examine themselves and their conscience, and to return "home" once again to God in prayer. It is a wonderful thing.
Having a prayer rule has actually helped me have a set and sturdy prayer life, one less focused on my own whims of feeling or inspiration, less random and chaotic. In effect, it is part and parcel of living the monastic life in the world, as it were. We are praying with the Church, we are actively participating in her life.
1 - Pensees, 395