Time For Prayer

It happens quite frequently that during the question and answer session of talks I give someone or another raises the difficulty of finding time for prayer.

I understand how busy everyone is. Many run around trying to cram 26 (or 28 or 29) hours of activity into a 24 hour day. Many multitask their way through their days.

In the flurry of activity, many things are lost. Time with friends. Time with God. Peter Kreeft observed, “If I gave my children as much time as I give God, I could be prosecuted for child neglect and abuse. If I spent as little time with my wife as I spend with God, she’d have grounds for divorce for desertion.”

The truth is that we need time with God. We need time for prayer. And you really don’t have to think about it too long to realize how impossibly inadequate “I’m too busy” is as an excuse for not finding that time. The first line of St. Ignatius’ Principle and Foundation reminds us that “The goal of our live is to live with God forever.” Isn’t it a little strange to say, “I don’t have time for that which is the entire goal and meaning of my existence”?

The Silent Insight Daily Meditation that arrived in my inbox this morning had this message:

Praying 30 min = 1/48 of your day.
Praying 15 min = 1/96 of your day

Lent starts on Wednesday. If you don’t already have a regular daily prayer practice, why not resolve to give over for Lent at least 1/96 of the day, if not 1/48!

Note: The Kreeft piece on time for prayer, from which I quoted above, is well worth reading in its entirety. You can find it here


People-First Language

A letter to the editor in a recent issue of America Magazine caught my eye. In response to an editorial in a prior issue titled Dignity of the Disabled, the author of the letter wrote

I would like to emphasize the importance of avoiding the term “disabled” wherever possible and to use people-first language (“people with disabilities”), which can help center us on what is most important: the human person, rather than the exclusionary category.

A simple point, but a very important one. Whatever the source of the disability or impediment, when we speak of a disabled person, a blind person, a diabetic, a deaf person, etc, we risk reducing the persons of whom we speak “to one characteristic, making them one dimensional and ignoring all of the other strengths and talents they possess.”

Language matters. It affects how we see, how we think of others.

Pope Francis spoke just the other day about the importance of remedying exclusion of people with disabling conditions, of a solidarity that welcomes all. It helps us to do that to actually see the whole person in front of us, and not merely a single characteristic – one that seemingly makes them different from us.

Developing the Beatitudes in Our Lives

As I’ve already shared, this past weekend I gave a silent retreat for fifty undergraduates titled, Developing the Beatitudes in Our Lives.

We don’t always take the Beatitudes seriously as an instruction for how to live our lives. We hear them and are struck by their poetic beauty, but we don’t always view them as speaking directly to us. In a commentary on the Beatitudes, Charles James Cook wrote:

We admire the instruction, but we fear the implications of putting the words into actual practice. …We often approach them as an impossible challenge for ordinary living. Only the greatest of saints are up to to the task. Therefore, we wait for the occasionsl figures like Martin Luther King, Dorothy Day, and Desmond Tutu to show us the way. In the meantime, the world does not get any better, and we remain unfulfilled in our pale expressions of Christian discipleship.

First and foremost, as Pope Bendict XVI observed in his book Jesus of Nazareth, “the Beatitudes express the meaning of discipleship.” They are not intended as sweet platitudes, but as ways we orient and live our lives (which is why I titled the weekend, Developing the Beatitudes in our Lives – emphasis on “developing”).

To help us live more fully in the spirit of the Beatitudes, we spent the weekend exploring what the Beatitudes mean, reflecting on how they challenge us, where our growing edges are, where we need God’s grace. I gave a number of talks over the course of the weekend, addressing one or more of the Beatitudes, leaving the students plenty of time between the talks to pray and reflect in between our group sessions.

Although I treated several Beatitudes together in a couple of talks, there were two to which I devoted special attention, giving them their own talks. On Saturday morning I spoke about poverty of spirit, a necessary ingredient in any authentic Christian attitude toward life. Johannes Baptist Metz calls poverty of spirit the “mysterious place where God and humanity encounter each other, the point where infinite mystery meets concrete existence.” I devoted Saturday evening to Jesus promise that we will be persecuted and insulted because of him (a talk we followed with the Stations of the Cross and Eucharistic Adoration).

You can listen to a recording of my talk on poverty of spirit here or stream it from the icon below. The podcast runs for 30:24. You can listen to my talk on “Blessed are they who persecute you…” here. The podcast runs for 25:26.

Poverty of Spirit:

Being Crucified with Christ:

Routine Maintenance

One of the people I met at the Seattle University Search for Meaning Book Festival was Jack Levison, a professor of New Testament at Seattle Pacific University. Jack and I traded copies of our books and I have started reading one of his, Fresh Air: The Holy Spirit for an Inspired Life.

Levison makes the important point that “if we want to be inspired, if we yearn to have God’s spirit upon us, then we need to hunker down for the long haul by maintaining the relationship we have with God and God with us.” And, he reminds us, that maintaining that relationship requires “routine maintenance.”

Levison finds a helpful prescription for routine maintenance in Isaiah 50:4-5, which he terms a model for receiving the guidance of the Holy Spirit. The “servant” in Isaiah says, “The Lord God has given me the tongue of a learner, that I may know how to sustain the weary with a word. Morning by morning God wakens – wakens my ear to listen as those who are taught. The Lord God hs opened my ear, and I was not rebellious, I did not turn backward.”

From this passage, Levison extracts three simple steps in a program of routine maintenance:

First, meet God every morning. Commit yourself to routine awakening.

Second, listen – don’t talk. Practice routine listening.

Third, train for the goal of sustaining the weary with a word. Devote yourself to routine encouragement.

It doesn’t really seem all that complicated, does it? A simple presciption to incorporate into the routine of our days.

Be Holy As Your Heavenly Father is Holy

During the weekend retreat I gave for UST undergraduates this weekend on Developing the Beatitudes in our Lives, Fr. Patrick Tobin of Campus Ministry was our presider at liturgies (as well as being available for the sacrament of Reconciliation for the students and just generally being present for all of us).

The Gospel for yesterday’s Mass was Jesus teaching to his disciples to go beyond what the law had demanded of them. “You have heard that it was said, An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil….You have heard that it was said, You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” The passage ends with Jesus direction to his disciples to “be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Fr. Tobin translated that last line as a command that we “Be holy, just as your heavenly Father is holy.”

Interesting choice, he suggested. God could have invited us to be like him in all sorts of ways; God is a lot of things. God has many qualities he could have invited us to imitate.

But God doesn’t say, “Be self-sufficient, just as your Father is self-sufficient.” Instead, as we learn in the Beatitudes we are invited to recognize our dependence on God.

God doesn’t say, “Be adored, just as your Father is adored.” God doesn’t say, “Be popular.” Instead, we get, Happy are you when they persecute you because of me.

God doesn’t say, “Be a winner, as I the Lord your God can win over all of my enemies.” Instead, the Beatitudes teach us to be meek.

God doesn’t say, “Be just as your Father is just.” Instead, he invites us to mercy.

Too often, Fr. Patrick suggested, we try to embrace other aspects of God, deciding, for example, that we ought to imitate the deadly wrath of God. Or the strength and power of God.

God, however, doesn’t invite us to any of those things. The only thing he asks us to imitate is his holiness. And our blueprint for becoming more like unto God in holiness is given to us by Jesus in the Beatitudes.

It was a wonderful sermon to round out our weekend. And stay tuned: I’ll post some podcasts of my retreat talks sometime this week – as soon as I get a chance to upload them.

What Controls and Shapes Your Life?

The other day my friend John Freund linked to a post that asked a simple question: “I wonder what would happen if we treated our Bible like we treat our cell phones?”

What would it be like, the author of the post asked, if we carried our Bible around with us…flipped through is several times a day…treated it like we could not live without it…ran back to get it if we forgot it?

Our devotion to our smart phones, our computers, our iPads, etc. runs pretty deep. Watch how quickly passengers flip on their phones the minute a plane lands, as though they can’t wait another minute to see what happened online during the duration of their flight. Watch the reaction of a friend when they realize the battery has run down on one of their devices. Look around a restaurant to see how many people are playing with their phones. Look at the statistics at how many texts young people send every day. (I write all of this with some chagrin because of the frequency with which I check my e-mail or stop to post something on Facebook or another site.)

J.I. Packer wrote in his book God’s Plan for You: “Whatever controls and shapes one’s life is in effect the god one worships.”

The question asked in the post I began with is a good one. What if replaced our fascination with and reliance on our technological devices with equal devotion to the Word of God?

A Lesson In Patience (or I’m Really Not in Control, So What Am I Going to Do?)

I am at the University of St. Thomas Gainey Center in Owatanna, where I am giving a weekend retreat for UST undergraduates. Owatanna is about 65 miles southeast of where I live in Chanhassen. Normally it takes me a little over an hour to get there.

In the aftermath of Thursday’s snowstorm, the roads between my home and Gainey yesterday were treacherous and traffic was miserable. (Re treacherous: after 15 or 16, I lost track of disabled vehicles in ditches or snowbanks.) There was one point where we just sat on the road without moving for a while, after which I think I traveled quite a distance at somewhere between one and two miles an hour. There were periodic letups in the traffic, just enough to tempt one to believe conditions would be better, but they never lasted all that long. To top it off, the road was closed two exits before the one I wanted, requiring several miles of driving on a secondary road that had less traffic, but much more snow. I arrived at Gainey just shy of three hours after I pulled out of my driveway.

There is nothing to do in such a situation except to breathe deeply, be in the present moment, and patiently accept the conditions for what they are.

Of course, there are people who try to do otherwise. One driver, annoyed at the slow conditions, decided the thing to do was to pull to the right and drive along the right shoulder. That worked for about 20 seconds, after which he found himself stuck in deep snow. Others would speed up as soon as they saw a patch or road without snow (there were a few) – I saw one truck who did that almost jackknife (a bit too close to my car for my comfort).

Traffic or otherwise, we will find ourselves in situations we can’t control, sometimes situations that are not to our liking. We can’t control the situations, but we can choose how to react to them.

Discerning Religious Experience

How do I know I had a “real” religious experience, that what I experienced was not the product of my imagination? How do I know what I think came from God really did come from God?

Those are the questions we explored yesterday at a Mid-Day Reflection at UST School of Law on the subject of discerning religious experience. My talk proceeded from two assumptions. First, that all experience has a religious dimension. Second, that all religious experience needs to be discerned, because people can be deceived.

I frist talked a little about St. Ignatius’ teaching about consolation and desolation and then identified some questions that help us to discern religious experience. I shared with the participants Thomas Merton’s description of one of his foundational religious experiences as a vehicle for talking more concretely about some tell-tale characteristic of an experience of God. We had some dialogue following that, after which I invited participants to reflect on their own religious experiences. We then had some sharing of those experiences.

You can access a recording of my talk here or stream it from the icon below. The podcast runs for 38:30. (It may be hard to hear the participants’ comments during our discussion stemming from Merton’s experience; hopefully my comments/replies bring enough clarity to their comments.)

I’ll be leaving in a few hours for the center where I’ll be offering a weekend retreat for undergraduates on Developing the Beatitudes in Our Lives. I ask you to keep me and the retreatants in your prayers.

Dealing With a World of Change

My friend and former student Phil Steger was the speaker yesterday at Weekly Manna at the law school. Phil is a very thoughtful man and someone who understands (read: lives) intentional discipleship, and I have always enjoyed and benefitted from our discussions. So I was happy he accepted our invitation to return to the law school to speak.

Phil asked that we use as our opening reading the beautiful plea for unity and humility in Chapter 2 of Philippians. Following the reading, he began by observing that we live in a time of “difficult, stress-inducing, sometimes fantastic, change.” We face change in so many areas – environmentally, politically, socially, culturally.

How do we deal with that change? Phil suggests that the early roots of Christian thought and spirituality help us to deal with a change in a way that avoids the danger of either a loss of faith or what he terms a “walled faith.”

You can access a recording of Phil’s talk here or stream it from the icon below. The podcast runs for 24:14.

Praying: Both/And

My dear friend Richard Burbach recently started blogging, and I am glad he has! The conversations we share always enrich me and it is a delight to see Richard sharing his reflections with a broader audience.

Here is an excerpt from his post today about prayer, which resonates with my own experience. (And I love the timing; some of what Richard says here was part of both my book talk this past weekend in Seattle and a talk I gave yesterday morning.)

[D]o we recite “prayers” or do we “pray”? Making such a distinction is only for the purpose of emphasizing, as with most things in life, its a matter of BOTH/AND. Whether reciting prayers or spontaneously praying, we begin to catch on that it eventually becomes less a matter of what we do and more a matter of attentiveness to what God is “praying” in us. Perhaps such an awareness of God’s initiative is the only way we can really understand or begin to approach Scripture’s admonition to “pray continually” (Luke 18:1) or “pray without ceasing.” (1 Thessalonians 5:17)

Especially during summer in Minnesota when folks flock “up North” to their cabins we have good reason to ask, “Why do we need to go to church? I pray better outside in nature! That’s where I find God.” I don’t deny God’s grandeur nor the spontaneous gratitude and wonder this calls forth. My purpose here is to ask whether we cheat ourselves if we slip back into EITHER/OR thinking on this topic. My experience teaches that we are at our best when we practice BOTH time in God’s creation AND time in formal prayer.

My experience resonates with Julia Marks: Time set apart for “prayers” – or, more broadly, prayer practice – does matter, and it nourishes the times of spontaneous prayer, silent communion, or mindfulness-in-the-moment. “As the expression of our prayerfulness,” says Brother David, “prayers make us more prayerful. And that greater prayerfulness needs to express itself again in prayers. We might not have much to begin with, but the spiral expands according to its own inner dynamics, as long as we stay with it.”

My prayer – and “practice” is an apt word to describe what I attempt – is generally no more glamorous than faithfully seating my butt down on the stool in my prayer space and setting the timer on my iPhone for twenty minutes. I can’t explain it, nor will I try. It just works! As expressed so well by Julia Marks and Brother David: “Staying with it” is the key. In other words, pray daily, intentionally, in some form. Get a routine, any routine – one that suits you, not someone else. Then be faithful to it. Faithfulness is crucial here, not performance.

I encourage you to check the read the post in its entirety here.