I’ve been experimenting with various ways of ordering my schedule and prioritizing my workload. In response to the question, “How do I find time to pray?” my best current answer is, “Either you do or you don’t.”
My college Health and Exercise Science professor had a similar philosophy about exercise: “If you don’t start today, what makes you think you’re going to start tomorrow?” But I’m not sure sure exercise (or really much else in my schedule) is precisely analogous to making time for prayer.
If I’m in a hurry and don’t have much time for exercise, I can do only one set of weights (instead of 2-3) or I can jog faster to cover distance more quickly on a run. If I’m rushed, I can fold laundry or empty the dishwasher at a speedier-than-normal pace. But with prayer: you either stop and open yourself mindfully, heart-fully, and contemplatively to God in the present moment — or you don’t.
Thomas Keating, a Trappist monk and one of the leading figures in the contemporary Centering Prayer movement, recommends that beginners pray for 20 minutes, twice a day. Twenty minutes may seem like a long time, but the argument is that, counter-intuitively, sitting for less than 20 minutes is potentially more frustrating because you do not allow yourself time to settle in, center down, and touch inner silence. So, you either take 20 minutes for prayer, or you don’t. However, there are many other fruitful ways of praying besides Centering Prayer.
Along these lines, I remember the author Phyllis Tickle saying that she assumed that her boss must think she had one of the most regular bladders of all time because for years she would go to the bathroom at exactly 9:00 a.m., Noon, and 3:00 p.m. But she wasn’t going to use the bathroom. She was going to do a spiritual practice known as “Praying the Hours” in a place that was away from the potential interruptions of e-mail, phone, or someone walking into her office.
If you want to learn more about the practice of Centering Prayer, I cannot recommend highly enough Cynthia Bourgeault’s Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening.
If you feel called to a different or somewhat more active spiritual practice a wonderful survey of options can be found in Daniel Wolpert’s Creating a Life with God: The Call of Ancient Prayer Practices.
If you have a smart phone, I also highly recommend the app Insight Timer ($1.99):
Imagine the sound of beautiful Tibetan singing bowls, gently and peacefully guiding you through your meditation session. Your attention focused inward with no need to worry about the clock. Insight Timer gives you this and much more. It’s simple enough to get started with just a few taps, yet powerful enough to handle the most sophisticated meditation routines with advanced features such as interval bells, presets and a meditation journal.
I’ll close with a quote from this morning’s free e-mail daily devotional from Richard Rohr that beautifully expresses why you may want to make time to pray:
The word “prayer” has often been trivialized by making it into a way of getting what we want. But I use “prayer” as the umbrella word for any interior journeys or practices that allow you to experience faith, hope, and love within yourself. It is not a technique for getting things, a pious exercise that somehow makes God happy, or a requirement for entry into heaven. It is much more like practicing heaven now.
Such prayer, such seeing, takes away your anxiety for figuring it all out fully for yourself, or needing to be right about your formulations. At this point, God becomes more a verb than a noun, more a process than a conclusion, more an experience than a dogma, more a personal relationship than an idea. There is Someone dancing with you, and you are not afraid of making mistakes.
If you don’t start today, what makes you think you’re going to start tomorrow?
The Rev. Carl Gregg is a trained spiritual director, a D.Min. candidate at San Francisco Theological Seminary, and the pastor of Broadview Church in Chesapeake Beach, Maryland. Follow him on Facebook (facebook.com/carlgregg) and Twitter (@carlgregg).