I am far from your image of the monastic life: the serenity, the wisdom, the walking slowly with my hands in prayer position. Instead of enrobing myself in the monastic tunic for morning prayer at 6 am, I’m usually stumbling around with a big blanket covered in pink and neon blue dancing bears, waiting for my espresso to steam on the stove. Instead of speaking tender blessings, I’m offering hugs, planning ahead for snack time, saying, “We don’t throw things that aren’t balls,” and speaking sternly to my lazy self against turning on Nick Jr. just because I’m tired.
There is nothing monk-like about me. I talk too much. I’m too sarcastic. Even the fact that I’m writing about myself is very unmonklike. Can you say nonmonkish? Nonmonkmanlike? Monkless?
I haven’t started this blog in order to share ten easy steps toward inner sanctuary. I don’t really know how to be the mother and wife and follower of Jesus I want to be. I don’t really know how to pray with a quiet heart. And that is precisely why I’m here.
In December, my sweet husband stayed home with our son and sent me away alone for an Advent retreat at a monastery near Los Angeles. My two and a half days of eating meals in silence and being called by clanging bell to the continual prayers of the monastic day were not life changing in the sense of epiphany and sudden clarity. I did not have a significant encounter with a monk that has changed how I see the world. What happened was quiet.
It was not simply the silence around me, the quiet that comes without a toddler, the lack of modern distraction. It was the opportunity to pause life, to reflect, to spend a day continually coming back into God’s presence.
I’ve spent my life praying in the mornings. I’ve prayed through the general crisis that was my high school career, through the drama of boys in college, through job choices and life choices, through great joys and fears. But I have never learned to pray with an inner quiet. I have never learned to walk through an entire day in a continual motion of prayer.
My prayer life has been a straight line: Meet with God in the morning and walk ahead. I am learning from St. Benedict that my day can look more like a flower, meet with God in the middle and loop out as a petal, then come back. It’s not rocket science but it’s not easy either. How do the Benedictines do it? They chant the Psalms together, five times a day. 150 Psalms every two weeks.
Obviously, we stay at home moms can’t head over to the chapel every time we have five minutes to pray, but we can choose to actually use the natural rhythms of a day at home with kids: those secret minutes when they are fascinated with building a lincoln log fort for their miniature sharks to live in (or maybe that’s just my son), for prayer, for inner quiet. I’m starting with the Psalms. I’ve decided on five Psalms a day (with plenty of room for grace). One at 6 am when I’m snuggling with my espresso. One at some point in the morning when my son is distracted and I can take a break. One during lunch and one after lunch during naptime. One before bed. It’s not much but it’s a little string from my soul to God, to keep me coming back and coming back and coming back…