Finding Respite in a Chaotic World

Not too long ago, I happened to be walking by my local parish and felt what I can only describe as a longing to go inside for a few minutes, away from the hustle and bustle of city life. Approaching the doors, outside of normal mass times, they were of course, locked. In this day and age, it’s become a necessity to protect the property when it is otherwise unattended. It saddens me to think that a house of God should ever be completely empty. How wonderful a world would it be if church doors could always be open, if the Blessed Sacrament was never alone?

freely-1648.jpgI had been feeling a great deal of frustration that day, and somewhat harried, I’ll admit, but rather than turn away, I decided to approach the rectory and parish offices instead. A compassionate staff person informed me that absolutely, it would be okay (during parish office hours) to go inside. There were no other events taking place at that time (no wedding or funeral masses, etc). I only needed to ask.

So that’s how it came about that on a weekday, in the middle of business hours, I found myself sitting in front of the Blessed Sacrament (not exposed) and saying a decade or two of the Rosary, lost in thought.

The situation reminds me of an old Charlie Hill song based on Psalms 84, “Better is One Day” (also covered by Matt Redman). Redman’s cover is included below, if you’re interested:

To quote the psalmist,

“How lovely your dwelling, O Lord of hosts,
My soul yearns and pines for the courts of the Lord.
My heart and flesh cry out for the living God.

As the sparrow finds a home, and the swallow, a nest for her young,
My home is by your altars, LORD of hosts, my king and my God!

Blessed are those who dwell in your house!
They never cease to praise you.” (v 2-5).

In that brief moment of sitting there, I reflected on how different my life might have been had my heart been open to Catholicism earlier in life. Would I ever have married? Would I perhaps have found a vocation in consecrated life? Now I will never know.

What I do know for sure is that the psalmist speaks truthfully. As long as the Church stands, there’s a place for weary souls in a chaotic world to find a moment of peace.

Timing: God’s or Ours?

I’m not proud of this post today. And if I’m completely honest, I’ve delayed some of you who need this message from receiving it sooner, because my vanity wanted a perfectly crafted post. Because presenting a professional, polished, good-enough-to-sell post somehow makes the message more valid, as if God needed my HTML formatting, photo selection and narrative skills to make a point. For that, I am truly sorry.

Continue reading “Timing: God’s or Ours?”

Small Beginnings: One Practice I Used to Encourage More Focused Prayer

It began with a jar.

An extra jar leftover from the holiday season, currently out of use, and just sitting around my kitchen. ‘Why do I always buy too much instead of just enough?’ I’d wondered. It was a dollar; I’m not going to the trouble of queueing in a line to return it for a dollar.

So it’s been sitting in my kitchen, for no other reason than it seemed a good place to keep breakables.

I’m in a mood to create more order and find spaces for things. It’s been several months since we moved into our new place, and we’ve ‘settled’ as much as one can, but, I still don’t have my old nook for prayer. I’m giving serious consideration to having a dedicated prayer space now.

A Place For Prayer

In a symbolic gesture of beating my sword into a plow, I convert my writing desk into an altar by pushing it against one wall of my office, draping a never-used-before white tablecloth over it, and adding a candle, a few spiritual books I’ve been meaning to begin reading, and a Rosary. It’s still quite empty, but it’s a start. It briefly crosses my mind — ‘What will I use if I begin writing again?’ and I dismiss the thought. When the time comes for that (if the time comes at all), God will show me how to move forward.

That’s been my rule of thumb a lot lately — blind faith. I don’t particularly like it, it’s too contrary to my ‘everything planned out in advance, all my i’s dotted and t’s crossed’ personality. Leaving room open in my heart to be led by God means that there’s room for error, and I hate being wrong. Which makes today particularly difficult, as I’m going to be participating in the sacrament of reconcilation. What’s that if not admitting to a whole list of wrongs…?

I need to pray more. Consistent prayer is an area that I struggle with, and this is what my confessor latches onto in the sacrament of reconciliation, offering me some advice of how to better incorporate prayer into my daily life.

One of the stories that particularly struck me was that of a woman (unidentified of course) who used to bring a jar to work and began placing prayers in the jar. Eventually, her coworkers began asking her to pray, and the jar’s contents grew. That little jar was the small beginnings of a witness of faith and prayer in that environment. How could I begin such a practice to help foster more prayer in my life?

Scraps of Faith

Back from mass and reconcilation, fumbling around through bits and bobs, I found it, that leftover jar, and suddenly, I knew exactly what God had in mind that winter day when I bought one jar too many. I place the jar on my altar, lid off, and begin taking scraps of recycled paper (otherwise to be thrown out) and cut them to a uniform length, the width of a number 2 pencil, and the length of a crayon. Small, slender strips, but long enough for a line, a thought of handwriting.

The pile and a pen join the jar as companions, ready to be of use when the occasion calls. As a prayer intention strikes me, I grab a slip of paper, jot down the date and the intention, and into the jar it goes. Every day, during my intercessory prayer, I will dump out the jar’s contents and at random, select the prayers (one at a time) and begin pouring out my heart to God, believing that He is a hearer of prayers.

Prayers, Like Petals

At first, these scraps of paper stood like soldiers, straight and tall, all in a clustered group, and the jar looked quite empty. As the effects of gravity and time have taken their course, now these slips begin to curve as they fall through the neck of the jar and float atop the others, forming a circular pattern.

It occurs to me that each prayer is like the petal of a chrysanthemum bloom, and indeed, even as my little prayers are piling up in that little jar, they curl upwards, rotating in a circular form, like the foundation of a petal base. While pondering this little metaphor, I attempt to remember any verses about prayers being a perfume. The closest thing I can come up with is:

“Let my prayers be incense before you; my uplifted hands an evening offering.” (Ps. 141:2, NAB)

I love this sort of imagery, of comparing prayer to flowers, or incense. The flowers analogy specifically (I think) probably is developed from my reading of St. Faustina’s biography, who spoke of weaving a spiritual bouquet of flowers for Our Lady out of her prayers, faithfully spoken. St. Faustina used a few different metaphors — violets, roses, and lilies, all sweet-smelling fragrances. If the analogy holds, what beautiful imagery, to think of our prayers rising up to heaven like flowers.

My little jar now seems to have a reinvigorated purpose, on its surface, just scraps of recycled paper and pen etchings, and, on a spiritual note, the beginnings of incense rising to God. This inspires me to return often to my little homemade altar, and when absent from home, to the altar that is my heart, where Christ dwells, and to offer Him prayers there in my heart of hearts; a “sweet-smelling fragrance” c.f. 2 Corinthians 2:15 by my life, in imitation of Christ, who was foremost a sacrifice to the Lord, c.f. Ephesians 5:2. May we always seek to pursue Him more nearly.

Can you use a prayer jar of your own? If you use another method, how do you integrate prayer into your daily life?. Have a blessed day, and remember to keep reaching higher to lay hold of all that God has called you to.

My Rule of Life

Tranquility in the midst of rolling pastures and fences to keep in one’s livestock. It’s a lovely picture of serenity, balance and order and just the sort of thing that is a good representation of what I’d like my life to imitate. Oh sure, underneath it all there’s still dirt, manure, and bug city, but there’s also the rain, the blooms, the green and yellow fields, and a vast expanse of sky from here to the horizon.

agriculture-3279253_1920.jpg

In an earlier post, I introduced the idea of crafting a ‘rule of life’ to establish order and implementing a new schedule to reflect my one priority: God.

Albert Einstein once said, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

Bearing that in mind, everything then is open to being changed, or to use a metaphor for writing — no word escapes the editor’s red pen; all is subject to revision. These decisions are not merely to ‘mix things up’ (i.e. change for the sake of change) but to cultivate order, discipline, structure, balance, and intentional living. Time for prayer, time for worship, time for work, time for family, time for recreation, etc.

As indicated in my post’s title, I anticipate that this rule of basis will be reviewed and changed on an annual basis, perhaps more frequently as I get my feet wet. Some details will remain intentionally vague as this is the Internet and anyone may be reading who may be “like a prowling lion seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8, NIV).

My purpose in sharing how I approached my own Rule of Life is that you will find some inspiration in attempting one yourselves too. I love the rocks in a jar analogy, so I’ll reference those as we go along so you can see how everything adds up.

So, here we go!

Begin with the Biggest Rocks First

Using a digital calendar for this setup (because I love repeat events and color-coordinating things), I began with the things that were already established practices, such as:

  • Work and/or School Schedules
  • Blocking off time for transit to and from work
  • Mass times
  • Meal times

Of course, you can also use a paper calendar and modify these suggestions too.

My next step was to consider how many hours of sleep I really need per night — not how many I can get away with, or how many I’d like on those lazy, sleep-in days, but, how many do I really need to function well. Everyone varies differently, but for me, the magic number is 7.

So, the next thing I blocked in was, you guessed it, rest. The way my digital calendar is set up, this is actually logged in as two separate, repeating events — because mine is weird about events that overlap days. So, there’s the morning sleep as one event, and the night before sleep as a separate event. It’s slightly clumsy, but it works for me.

These two steps out of the way, if you’re fully employed, you’ll probably find that several huge chunks of your time is suddenly full and there seems to be very little left in the way of breathable room. That’s okay. I’ve found that establishing these fences in advance gives your ‘horses’ room to run, but only ‘this far and no further’.  Now, the question became — what are the non-negotiable (for me) habits that I want to have time for, and how much time do I want to allocate to them?

For me, the big one was that I didn’t have a set time of day or night in which to spend with God. I’d like to begin to do evening or morning prayers. I’d like there to be a time with that wherein I can read my Bible or a devotional, learn about the life of a saint, pray, meditate, or worship. A daily appointment with God. And because I’d cleared off everything on my schedule (the media, the hobbies, etc.), I now could really analyze my time and find where the best place, for me, would be to attempt adding in this discipline.

Maybe you’re an evening person and that’s when you’re most alert. Nights then are your best time, your peak performance time with God. I’m more of a morning person, and my mornings are pretty busy (sound familiar?) so I decided that a sacrifice I was willing to make was cutting my evening hours short so I could (gulp!) wake up before 6am. Into the schedule it goes!

For review:

  • All Existing Commitments
  • Time for Prayer/Bible Reading/Worship
  • Bed times

Next, Add in The Pebbles

Adding in that one hour chunk of time (my daily appointment with God), and the rest of the morning begins filling out. When to allow for time for personal grooming, when you’re likely to have a few minutes to read the paper or check your emails. Not content to just analyze my mornings, I then took a real close look at how I spend that precious time between work and bed, time that I really didn’t want to look at because it’s ‘unwinding time’, a general turn-of-phrase for time to unplug from the world by plugging my brain into whatever screen of choice I’m in the mood for…and the time sink begins.

There had to be a way to redeem that time. There is. A desire was growing in me to be productive and not idle — not productivity for its own sake, but to work with my hands and produce something physical, tangible, from my efforts. I’ve now scheduled in a few hours per week just to do any arts and crafts (hobbies, non-technology-based) that I feel led to do. My own profession relies so heavily on technology that there’s little opportunity to experience, like St. Joseph, the finished product of something made by one’s own labors.

Having time to strengthen my relationships is also important to me. I’ve added in a buffer of time every day to spend with my spouse, even if we’re just reading quietly together, as we often do, and additional time here and there to call my family, or to get together with loved ones or friends.These also get blocked off in my schedule. And I recognize that everyone’s schedules are different, so I may have to make occasional adjustments to my schedule to be available for others (and this is right and good) but at least having one to start with is, I find, immensely helpful.

For review:

  • Personal Grooming
  • Time for Relationships
  • Hobbies

Finally, Add in Sand and Water

The last steps in the ‘rocks in a jar’ analogy involve adding in sand, to fill up the crevises, or water, just to show the little things that can, by themselves, consume all of our time if we allow them to, but in moderation, complete the whole by filling in those tiny gaps leftover after everything else (what’s most important in your life) has been scheduled in already.

For you, this could be any number of minor things depending on your life situation, but probably, they are all things that have to be done, but are often time-flexible. Some examples from my life would include: household chores, errands, appointments, web browsing, Netflix, etc. Maybe you enjoy working out, baking, and reading fashion magazines. Everybody’s different.

By the end of this exercise, your regular work days (or school, if you’re a student), should be mostly full. Don’t be afraid of a little white space too — these are your margins for the unplanned and unexpected. You will probably notice too that suddenly, your “off” days suddenly are looking pretty wide open. Mine certainly were. Don’t worry…I’m going to ask you to look at those as well!

For review:

  • Chores
  • Errands
  • Appointments
  • Leisure Time
  • Blogging

Sabbath Rest = Quality of Life Days

One area that I have felt convicted about us is the Lord’s commandment to remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy.

I understand that for many professions, it is impossible to take Sunday off. Maybe you’re a physician, or in law enforcement or some other emergency personnel. Perhaps you work in some other field, like running a gas station, and your employer needs to be open 7 days a week, holidays included. If either of these applies to you, your Sabbath day may not be a Saturday or Sunday, it might be that Tuesday off, or that Thursday. It’s that one day of the week that you have rest from your labors, whatever day that is. Keep that day holy.

For me, this is Sunday, but for a number of years now, I’ve worked overtime (for wants, not needs) and this has come about only by the sacrifice of my family of our time, our rest, and of breaking the Lord’s commandment about the Sabbath. In light of this, I am taking steps to complete my existing obligations, but not commit to any dates in the future, save for when required by work obligation.

What do I plan to do with that extra time? Rest in God. This is where you look at quality of life decisions. What sort of life do I want to cultivate? What are my values? For me, as hinted above, it’s time for relationships, time to cultivate my passions, etc. Additionally, I’d like to find ways to spend time outdoors, or doing cultural activities. How, you might wonder, is this resting in God? I think it’s all in the attitude in which we approach it.

  • I can spend time with family and friends and share God’s love with them, encouraging them in their own lives. The disciples often spent time with fellowship, and in the breaking of bread and studying God’s Word together.
  • I can commit a portion of my time to volunteering to do works of mercy. Perhaps I will give a few hours of my time to the local food pantry, or visiting prisoners, or comforting the sick, etc. Practicing the corporal or spiritual works of mercy is a wonderful way to spend part of your day off.
  • The Bible tells us that the earth reflects the glory of God. I can spend time in nature, appreciating God through His creation. If you have children, perhaps this would be a great opportunity to give them instruction on what we can learn from animals and nature itself — how do they give evidence of a divine Creator? What can they teach us to help us grow in our spiritual lives?
  • Spending time doing cultural activities is one of my values. I believe God gives everyone a gift to use to do His will and to glorify Him. Just as I can appreciate and give thanks to God for the beauty of nature, so too can I admire great works of art, or pieces of music, and consider how their beauty glorifies the Lord that inspired them.

These are just a handful of examples of ways to look at incorporating qualify of life time into your resting periods, and how you can claim these activities for Christ, always in a spirit of supplication, of being open to God’s direction and obedient to His will. You never can tell when an opportunity might arise to talk to a stranger, to help your neighbor, or to strengthen the spirit of a friend.

When we are willing to be led by God, and God grants us the grace of courage to act, I believe that we are participating in bringing His kingdom on earth. I hope that this post has given you some ideas of how to transform your time, for the sake of Christ, and may your hearts always remain open to God. Have a blessed day and remember, keep reaching higher to take hold of all that God has called you to.

Reining in Wild Horses: Crafting a Rule of Life

In his YouTube talk, Rules of Life: A Brief Introduction, modern-day monastic practitioner and author, Evan B. Howard said, “One Christmas break [my wife and I] decided to take the reins of the wild horse[s] of our life, by God’s grace, and write our own rules of life.” Howard goes on to describe how, over several decades, together they defined and refined a way of life with God at its focus, and how you too can establish your own ‘rules of life’ to create boundaries — for work, for play, for prayer, etc.

Howard’s four-part series (so far), available on YouTube and Vimeo, is a simply-filmed, homegrown production, but his earnest, quirky personality makes him a delight to watch. The videos are an expression of the couple’s faith (my guess is his wife, Sherry, is  operating the camera off-screen) and a desire to reach others with the message of simplifying one’s life by establishing limits and boundaries.

The Myth of Self-Mastery

Christians talking about boundaries is nothing new. In my Evangelical Christian background, I was exposed to Henry Cloud’s Boundaries, which caused quite a stir when it was released and became required reading. A cursory glance at its updated edition available on Amazon today (4/12/18) shows that it’s currently listed as #1 in the Christian Counseling & Recovery category. So, still popular, apparently.

Likewise, Michael Hyatt, the former chairman and CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishers, has made a career out of helping people identify their core values, and chart a course to their best life ever. I’ve been following Hyatt for a number of years and some of his free resources have been helpful in prompting inner reflection over the years.

All of this is just to say that wrestling by brute strength of willpower one’s own life, or destiny, has always been appealing, even as this attitude has infiltrated the Christian community. I’ve been particularly suspectible to this as there’s nothing quite as attractive as the idea of pursuing a life of purpose by one’s own will alone. So then the question becomes, what’s changed?

A Gentler Way

I am coming to the conclusion, like Evan B. Howard proposes in his video series, that real Christianity calls us to a simpler lifestyle. I am trying to simplify my life by having only a few goals: that is, to know the will of God, to do His will, and to strive to be humble doing both. 1 John 5:3-4 comes immediately to mind:

“For the love of God is this, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome, for whoever is begotten by God conquers the world. And the victory that conquers the world is our faith.” (NAB)

If this then is a preamble to a rule of life, every question that follows in my mind must then be analyzed through the lens of — “Does this draw me closer to God’s will or further away?” For those who know me well, this is in fact quite the departure from my existence in recent years, which was one of hedonism, acedia and despair.

If I am, to “rein in the wild horses” of my life, then starting by rebuilding my pastures from the ground up (so to speak) seems like the way to go. The process may differ for others — I can only speak for myself — but I have to be willing and open to changing almost anything but the constants: my love for God, my desire to serve Him, and my love for my spouse.

A Rule by Example

There are some lovely examples for crafting a rule of life and making it as unique as your personality, already available on the web. Please see Evan B. Howard’s videos (end of article under “Resources”) for detailed instructions on this process. I would like to point out some of the unique approaches I encountered while researching this topic:

  • A traditional essay format.
  • Several people made tables based on goals by time period (daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly/seasonally, and annually) and by the area of their life that they wished to focus on.
  • Using collages or Pinterest-style vision boards.
  • A mission statement.
  • Leslie Linebarger (2013) did an absolutely charming magazine article format with her “recipe for daily bread” (link).
  • Christine O’Reilly (2016) did a theme based on music, “The Soundtrack of My Soul” (link).

Whatever your format, you should keep in mind both your reason for establishing a rule of order (hopefully, to draw closer to God and make Him your priority in life), as well as what forms of structure or self-discipline will you try to engender in your life to make this possible. The unpredictable happens — everybody knows this, but, as the saying goes, if you shoot for the moon and miss, at least you’ll be amongst the stars. (I forget who said that but I’ve always found that a lovely expression, don’t you?)

Continue reading for some resources I’ve discovered on establishing your own rule of life. I am still in the early stages of attempting this new rule for myself, but I may do a second post to share what my day looks like, if that could possibly help inspire anyone else to do the same. Have a blessed day and remember, keep reaching higher to take hold of all that God has called you to in your lives.

Resources on Establishing a Rule of Life

Print/Web Resources:

  • Crafting a Rule of Life: An Invitation to the Well-Ordered Way by Stephen A. Maccia
  • The C. S. Lewis Institute — has a handy PDF with instructions for crafting a rule of life (PDF link).
  • Sacred Ordinary Days — has a lovely reference list of resources and is where I discovered the myRule examples mentioned above.

Video Lectures by Evan B. Howard: