Vigils February 25, 2010

“I will watch for you before dawn, that I may see your strength, O Lord.”

This is among today’s prayers in The Benedictine Handbook, a prayer specifically for the Lenten season. And a prayer that’s very “Benedictine,” since the monks are always watching for God before dawn. Benedict set down his Rule for the monastic order in the 6th century, he called for a prayer time, ahhh, you know, halfway through their night of sleep (midnight, to be exact…the 6th century occurred before any studies on the importance of the REM cycle). Thankfully for modern day monks, Benedict was pretty flexible about when services should take place so, for the most part, morning Vigils occur around 5:30 or 6 am these days. So, unless you’re superhuman like my mother, who has been rising at 5 every morning for the past 30 years (in order to accomplish what it takes me half a day to do before she gets to work), 5:30 or 6 is still pretty early for a daily prayer time.

In my attempt to “follow” Benedict’s Rule as a stay at home mom that means I’m attempting to wake at 6. This morning it was 6:15 after a week of hearing my alarm at 6:05 and sleeping until 6:30. (I have a problem.)

And, you see, I can’t stay in bed all cozy and snuggled up to my hunk of a husband, without hearing my new friend Benedict in my head, pleading in all earnestness: “All should be prepared to rise immediately without any delay as soon as the signal to get up is given; then they should hurry to see who can get first to the oratory for the work of God” (RB, Chapter 22).

Benedict is a really sweet guy. And he’s so sure that I can actually rise without delay. I’ve committed myself to applying his monk rules to my life for one year and I’m kind of annoyed that this is the advice that’s hardest for me to follow. So, last night, I did what monks since the sixth century have been doing: I set the alarm on my phone in addition to the one playing music near my head and I placed that phone across the room.

Last night, while brushing our teeth and discussing my new two-alarm strategy, my husband said, “I need your help.” He said this a little gurgly through a barrier of toothpaste foam, but I understood him. “At 6:30, will you turn on the light, come over to my side of the bed, pull the covers off me and force me to sit up?”

“Yes! That’s exactly what Benedict says the younger brothers should do for the seniors in the morning!” I confess I pointed and shook my toothbrush at him while making this exclamation. I’m thankful that at this point, a few months into my new monk habits, my husband is not completely freaked out by my small Benedictine obsession.

Benedict doesn’t exactly say that a brother should pull the covers off his still snoozing elder. Technically he’s hoping said brother will “quietly give encouragement.” And, technically, Chris is not my elder. I’m proud to be a grade smarter than the man. But the quiet encouragement thing is something I could learn. Usually, I’m sitting across the room drinking coffee, barking, “Are you still not up yet?” every five minutes.

So, here I am, one hour later, having made it through two cups of espresso (are monks allowed strong coffee during vigils?), celebrating the fact that it’s 7:19 and my son has not woken up yet and thankful that my new discipline is allowing me time to participate in what Benedict calls “the work of God,” because, let’s face it, prayer is work. It’s hard to sit alone and set your mind on Christ. It’s difficult to let the first words out your mouth be: “O Lord open my lips and my mouth will declare your praise.”

So, I’m writing on my couch, still robed in my pjs, thankful for the chance to watch for God before dawn. Thankful that I’m entering this day having been reminded that God’s strength is worth looking for.

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