Melanie Bettinelli is a homeschooling mother of five who blogs at The Wine-Dark Sea.
Read more entries in the How I Pray series.
Who are you?
I’m a wife, a stay at home mother of five kids ages 2 to 8, a homeschooler, and Texan expat wondering yet again this winter how I came to be living in frosty New England.
I’m also a bibliophile and blogger and former adjunct English professor. My passion is literature, particularly poetry, T.S. Eliot, Seamus Heaney, and Shakespeare. I’d better stop there before I write a bibliography. I have an MA in Irish studies. I enjoy art and quilting and gardening even though my thumb isn’t very green.
What is your vocation?
My baptismal vocation is to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. My primary vocation is wife to Domenico. I’m also mother to Isabella, Sophia, Benedict, Anthony, and Lucia. Lastly, I’m a teacher and a writer. At this stage in my life my teaching vocation is manifested in homeschooling my own children and I find time in the margins of my days to write, mostly on my blog.
What is your prayer routine for an average day?
Hmmm. I’m not sure I have an average day. I have the ideal and then I have whatever I actually manage to accomplish with the day as it presents itself. But I can tell you about my ideal, which is really pie in the sky.
I try to hinge my day on the Liturgy of the Hours: Morning and Evening prayer as the bookends of my day, squeezing in the Office of Readings and, when I can, one of the daytime hours. I adore ending the day with Night prayer, but often it comes down to a choice between that and Evening Prayer because I didn’t pray Evening Prayer at the appropriate time and don’t want to miss it.
If I have the time I like to start off the day sitting quietly in bed reading Morning Prayer, either silently to myself, or out loud accompanied by one or more of my children. I love praying the Liturgy of the Hours with my kids and they often love to sit and pray with me. But if that doesn’t happen, and recently it hasn’t been, then I try to listen to the divineoffice.org podcast while I’m making breakfast and doing my morning clean up after breakfast. It’s not ideal as I’m often distracted and interrupted. Some days I’m lucky if I paid attention to part of a psalm and one antiphon or I just prayed the Invitatory Psalm which starts off the first hour of the day.
If I listen to the podcast then sometimes the kids do too and join in. Most times they just ignore it and chatter and shout and argue over it. Still, even if we all seem to ignore it somedays, I like to have it as the background noise of our mornings. Better than many other background noises, you know? I know they are absorbing it, though, even if they don’t seem to notice, because I hear them repeat phrases, they have favorite bits, they ask questions. My favorite is hearing my toddler pray. My two year old recites along with me: “Lord, open my lips…” and “God, come to my assistance…” She knows the beginning of Psalm 95 and of the Benedictus. She likes to repeat antiphons.
I try to pray the Angelus at noon and six— and sometimes try to get the kids to pray it with me— I have alarms set on my phone to remind me to pray and sometimes I even hear them. I also have an alarm at 3 and if I’m paying attention I’ll squeeze in an abbreviated version of the Divine Mercy prayer (my own truncated version is just the invocation: “Eternal Father, I offer you the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of your dearly beloved Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ, in atonement for our sins and those of the whole world.” Then instead of a whole chaplet I just say three (or five or ten) repetitions of “For the sake of his sorrowful passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world.” (Normally you’d repeat it fifty times, ten for each of five decades of the rosary, but I’ve usually got small children waiting for me to get back to story time.) Then I end with “Holy God, Holy Mighty one, Holy Immortal One, have mercy on us and on the whole world.” It’s easy to get hung up on the need to either pray the whole chaplet or not pray at all, I figure my truncated version is better than not doing it at all.
I find that for me as a mother and homeschooler the line between my own private devotions and catechesis for the children is often blurred as any given prayer time might become an occasion for teaching and teaching about the faith is often a moment of encounter with Christ and an opportunity for meditation on the mysteries of the faith. Then of course there are our family prayers: we pray together at meals when we are together, sometimes at breakfast and lunch, always at dinner.
And then at bedtime we have a nightly prayer routine with the children, My husband says a short doxology, which we all repeat: “O God, we adore you, we bless you, we praise you” followed by a blessing for the children by name and invocation to their guardian angels. Then we all say an Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be, and Act of Contrition. Then we pray petitions. My husband usually prays a fairly set list with additions as they come up: for the souls in purgatory, for the pope and our bishop and priests, naming current and former pastors, then for religious brothers and sisters, naming individual religious and particular communities we have ties to, we pray for those who have asked our prayers. Then each child adds his or her own petition. Sometimes we chant the response, “Lord, hear our prayer.” Sometimes we just say it. Then each family member lists one or two or three things to thank God for. We try to end with an invocation to the saint of the day.
Some of my daily prayer is informal, chatting with God at various points in my day. I have a few prayers I like to say, a prayer to St Joseph for my husband, a prayer for my children. I pray for friends and family as I receive requests for intercessory prayer, often through Facebook. I sometimes pray while doing laundry or washing dishes or cooking dinner. Either just mental prayer, spending time with God, listening to the divine office podcasts, praying for particular intentions, or uttering short spontaneous prayers.
I also try to read the day’s lectionary readings, either to myself or to the children.
My favorite way to end the day is to stay up after all my family are in bed and to spend the last moments of the day in that precious quiet and peace and to find solitude with God.
How well do you achieve it, and how do you handle those moments when you don’t?
The above looks like an ambitious list. It is an ambitious list. But no, I don’t achieve even half of it on an average day. Many days, almost none of it. It’s not all that unusual for me to get to the end of the day and to think back over it and realize that I’ve utterly failed to pray and all I have to offer is an apology and a resolution to do better the next day. It is what it is.
It’s not only that I’m busy. I’ve also got my vices to contend with: I’m selfish and when I can snatch a bit of quiet, I often opt for entertainment more than prayer. Acedia is a daily struggle for me. I can be a bit of a perfectionist and berate myself for failing to meet my prayer goals for the day, but of course the real goal is simply to grow in closeness to God so the real failure is to fail to communicate with Him at all. My course of last resort is to at least touch base with Him in the quiet of the night after all my family are asleep and I can spend a few moments with Him.
About failure, I try to do what I can and hope that God will take care of the rest. I’ve been in sort of a rut lately, having a hard time getting myself to sit down to pray. And sadly Lent hasn’t really made a dent in correcting that. I know from experience that it will likely pass. But even when I’m really being lax, I never go through a day without talking to God, even if it’s just an offhand, I’m sorry I didn’t really get to you today. And there’s always this sense I have that even if I neglect him, it’s *Him* I’m neglecting. His presence is the elephant in the room that I’m not dealing with. But no matter how distracted I get, He’s still there and I know he’s waiting patiently, eagerly wanting more from me.
I’ve been praying the Liturgy of the Hours for more than a decade, beginning well before I was married, and I know from experience that for me there’s an ebb and flow. Sometimes it’s high tide and sometimes the tide is really low. And it’s to be expected that fitting it into life with five kids is a challenge. When you’re having babies every couple of years everything is constantly in flux. When my children’s needs and routines change I have to figure out how to change my prayer routine as well. So sometimes it feels like it’s always a new challenge. When I’ve got a nursing baby I try to use feeding times as the hard stops in my day to pray. Right now though I’ve got an older toddler who only nurses at morning wakeup, naptime, and bedtime and it’s become really hard to pray while she nurses so I’ve got out of that habit. I miss it.
Do you have a devotion that is particularly important to you or effective?
The Liturgy of the Hours is my primary devotion. I love the psalms and prayers. I feel like they speak to my soul more than any other prayer. I get to immerse myself in the Bible, in the prayer of the Church, to unite my voice and soul with all the other Catholics around the world who are praying the same prayers at the same time. And I love to think that Jesus and Joseph and Mary would have prayed the Psalms.
Do you have a place, habit, or way of praying?
I pray where ever I can and whenever I can. I tend to develop habits and then shed them as circumstances change. I like to pray in bed, in my favorite chair, at the stove or kitchen sink. Sometimes I just drop to my knees where I am. I pray in the bathroom a lot. Maybe that seems sort of inappropriate but since I’ve got five kids sometimes it’s the only place I can be alone.
I like to pray alone, but I’ve also come to love praying with my children. So often when they engage with the prayers of the liturgy I find it deepens my own experience and helps me to be truly present. I love hearing their voices, seeing their spontaneous love for God, and answering their questions. Sometimes they teach me about God and their devotion spurs my own when it flags.
Do you use any tools or sacramentals?
I find my iPhone has totally replaced my breviary these days. It’s so much more portable. I use the iBreviary app and the Divine Office app for the Liturgy of the Hours. I use the Evangelizo app for the daily readings and saint of the day.
Our house is filled with devotional art. We have a crucifix and images of Mary and the saints in almost every room. And a prayer shelf with statues, relics, and icons. I like to stop and gaze at them at times and just let that be an occasion of recollection and prayer.
We used to use holy water nightly to bless the children, but seem to have got out of that habit in the last year or so. I’m not sure our current toddler remembers it at all.
What is your relationship with the Rosary?
I love it but I never pray it. I have several beautiful rosaries but they mostly sit in drawers or pockets or on shelves gathering dust. I know how to pray it, I feel slightly guilty for not praying it and for not loving it more, but it simply doesn’t speak to me the way the divine office does. It’s a struggle for me to pray and well yeah I just don’t do it and feel slightly guilty over neglecting it. But at least I’ve managed to teach my oldest daughter how to pray and she’s prayed it on her own several times, and even got my second daughter to pray it with her. So that’s a sort of success.
Are there any books or spiritual works that are important to your devotional life?
After the Liturgy of the Hours and the Bible my spiritual reading is a mish mash. Some of St Francis de Sales letters to lay people, especially to pregnant mothers, have really helped me in times when I’ve found prayer almost physically impossible. Father Walter Cizek’s book He Leadeth Me. Pope Benedict’s Jesus of Nazareth books. Some of St Edith Stein’s writings. The Chronicles of Narnia are sort of my spiritual bedrock and often the lens through which I approach the spiritual life. Tolkien’s letter to his son about the Eucharist.
What is your most recent spiritual or devotional reading?
Are there saints or other figures who inspire your prayer life or act as patrons?
Absolutely, but, when it comes to the saints, I find that as I start to list my favorites I go overboard and don’t know when to stop. A few who have helped me in specific situations or who have chosen me: St Edith Stein, St Gianna Molla, St Therese, St Rose of Lima, Blessed Isabelle of France, St Augustine Zhao Rong and the Chinese martyrs, Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, St Joseph, St Andre Bessette, and Takashi Nagai, whoI hope will someday be a saint.
Have you had any unusual or even miraculous experiences as a result of your prayer life?
Maybe. What’s unusual? When I was a very little girl, my dad tells me, I came in from playing by myself in the yard and I was upset and said something about having been talking to someone. My dad was understandably concerned about me talking to a stranger. But then as he questioned me further, he realized I’d been talking to Jesus. I don’t remember this, but I think I’ve always felt that Jesus was a real friend, that God’s presence was real in my life. I’ve had periods of ignoring it, but never been able imagine God doesn’t exist or doesn’t care about me.
Also, I lost my second child to a miscarriage at about 10 weeks and then was told by my OB that the lab results were positive for uterine cancer. He insisted he wanted to do more tests because it was such an unusual diagnosis for someone my age. And indeed the follow up tests both showed negative for cancer. But while waiting for the results, I had a very dark week of being certain I was going to have a hysterectomy and that my first child was going to be my only one. During that time I was overwhelmed with how many people, not only friends and family but also complete strangers who heard about me via word of mouth on the internet, were praying for me.
It was this incredible experience of the Mystical Body of Christ, all these people I knew only online, all these strangers who didn’t know me at all. Their intercessions were very powerful. That loss and that scare have become a place of certainty, a moment when I was sure God was present to me through the intercession of other people. Some people pointed out to the all-clear diagnosis as a miraculous healing, but I think a false positive is within the realm of natural phenomenon. Nonetheless there was something mystical in the whole experience.
I would like to see __________________ answer these questions.
Erin Arlinghaus of Bearing blog.