The Ignatian Year VIII: “But I Don’t Have Time to Pray”

We lead very busy lives, and sometimes busy is an understatement. So it is not surprising that people sometimes say some version of “between work, family, etc, it is so hard for me to find time to sit and pray.”

St. Ignatius understood that we are sometimes in a situation where sitting down to prayer with our Bible (or other prayer material) and journal at our side is not always feasible.  Anxious as he was to encourage people to continue to develop their prayer lives outside of a retreat setting, the Exercises contain a note in the Supplementary Material that outlines some simple directives that can be used when ordinary methods might not be so easy, such as when one is tired or traveling or when one is generally left to her own resources.

Ignatius suggestions for those times focus on things you already carry with you.  Thus, for example, he suggests prayerful contemplation of prayers we know by heart, like the Our Father, the Hail Mary or the Anima Christi.  (That last, the Anima Christi – Soul of Christ – was a favorite prayer of St. Ignatius.  He encouraged its use a number of times in the text of the Spiritual Exercises.  Most printed editions of the Exercises include the prayer at the beginning.) 

He suggests taking an hour to pray one of those prayers instructing that when a word of two of the prayer occupies our full attention with relish and consolation, we do not hurry on.  Rather, in David Fleming’s words, “we remain where we find devotion even though the full time for praying elapses in this way.” I am reminded of Teresa of Avila,  who used to instruct her sisters in a similar way, suggesting they engage in extended meditation of each line of the Lord’s prayer.

Similarly, Ignatius suggests extended periods of prayer with the Ten Commandments and the Seven Deadly sins.  With respect, for example to the First Commandment, Fleming’s version of this instruction explains: “It is good to reflect upon how we have been faithful and how we have failed in our observation of the first commandment.  In the brief time that we center our attention on the first commandment, we may become aware of our failings and so we ask pardon and forgiveness of them from God.  Before moving on to the next commandment we will pray an Our Father.  And so in the same way, we take up each commandment for consideration and for prayer.”

You get the idea: Ignatius wants us to get into the habit of using time we might not otherwise think suitable for prayer.  We all lead very busy lives and sometimes our schedule is such that perhaps we don’t have time for our normal morning or evening daily prayer period.  But we all have occasions when we are waiting for a phone call, sitting in traffic, waiting for an appointment – What difference might it make if we resolve to use those periods  Ignatius gives us some suggestions for how we might do that.  I’m sure you can come up with others.  But it does require some intentional planning.

Note that this is a the eighth in a series of posts in celebration of the Ignatian Year, which began on May 20.