It seems that this is the time of year when I feel a little torn between the quiet "dog days" of summer and the busy "Fall Frenzy" of a new year. I've had quite a bit going on this summer with some projects that I've been working on and my sister getting married, but I've been able to rest and relax a bit, too. I haven't had much contact time with students, so obviously I'm excited to reconnect with current students and meet the new ones that will be heading our way. Looking backward to what is behind and looking forward to what is ahead is not always comfortable. It's hard to truly be present in the moment when our heads and hearts are rooted elsewhere. My transition, thankfully, is not a major one. I'm not moving, or getting a new job, or getting married, like many others that I know. But the rhythms of my current day-to-day life are changing for the next phase of the year.
Rhythms are important. They remind us that our current circumstances are temporary...just wait until x happens and then y will happen. They also help us to order the chaos of our life...we can put a little order to the pandemonium when we get into a rhythm. And rhythms shape and form us...there is a level of submission required in order to truly lapse into a rhythm.
One rhythm that I've been thinking about this summer which carries me into the fall is that of prayer. As noted before, I've been praying the "Divine Hours" this summer, praying the Morning, Midday, Vespers, and Night Offices. The Morning one felt pretty natural, and even the Night one, too. But the Midday and the Vespers? Those two cramped my style a bit. I decided to pray the Midday Office upon returning from lunch. Occasionally I forgot and already got started checking my email or returning to the project I had left prior to my lunch break. When I did, it took every ounce of discipline that I had to stop what I was doing, break the rhythm of work, to enter a different rhythm, the rhythm of prayer. The Vespers Office was similar. I found myself trying to pray it before I left my office to head for home, but quickly found that undesirable. Instead, I opted to pray the Vespers prayer after dinner. Again, the difficult thing is not the actual praying, but subverting my agenda for the rhythm of prayer.
After a summer of praying in this manner, I have several reflections. First of all, nothing "magical" happened during these times of prayer. Sometimes (dare I say it?), I felt like I was robotically reading words, albeit it holy words. Sometimes, my mind or heart engaged more and I was temporarily blessed. But rarely did the prayer do anything to me. Or so I thought.
Sure, I'll grant that praying this way did not lead me to some of the more "emotional" encounters with God that I've experienced in other manners of prayer, but praying the Hours led me to a whole different kind of experience in prayer than I've known before, and it is all tied up to the concept of the rhythms. We're commended in Scripture to pray without ceasing and (as the Psalms often assigned in my prayerbook say) pray in the morning, at noonday and at night. I've often said that I felt like I've done that by continually throwing up prayers (pun intended) all throughout the day. Now, don't get me wrong...I think that God is pleased when we ask for help in all things, but I also think that often my "throw up prayers" are more about my lack of faith or patience or wisdom that can only be changed through the slow, constant, rhythmic formation of sustained reorientation (if there is such a concept). Praying the Hours allows someone else to set the agenda. Sure, I can still lift my heart to the Lord, but I'm also being reminded of the need every morning to ask God to "preserve me with [God's] mighty power, that I may not fall into sin, nor be overcome with adversity; and in all I do, direct me to the fulfilling of your purposes; through Jesus Christ my Lord" (emphasis mine). My agenda takes a back seat, when I pray at the end of the day, "Into your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit." My own individualism who wants to keep things on track is derailed, to the agenda of the One Who Is REALLY In Charge.
So has my praying four times a day done anything? You bet it has. It has made me more willing to listen, not just to God, but to others. It has given me perspective by joining in the prayers of the saints across time. And it has created a rhythm in me that is able to join more closely to the rhythm of God. So, crazy, busy fall...here I come. Despite the chaos and commotion that is campus life in the fall, I enter with a sense of peace and expectation that through it all, God is sustaining me. Thanks be to God!