It may surprise you to know that your preacher spent last week in a monastery.
It may surprise you to find out that your preacher considers himself a Benedictine.
I was in Kansas last week, attending the yearly retreat of the monastery I am a member of, which is called St. Brigid of Kildare Monastery. It’s not like what you may think of-there is no brick and mortar, there are no monks or women monastics in the traditional sense—there are certainly no nuns. The members are both men and women, are married, are in committed relationships, and single, and we are located all around the country, and even one guy in the Dominican Republic. We are mostly Protestant and mostly Methodist, and about half clergy.
What we do hold in common, though is an interest in and a desire to structure our lives, as best we can, according to a 1700 year old document called the rule of St. Benedict.
That document tried for a balance of prayers, work, and rest. Some over the years have tried for a literal balance of three equal parts, and some have tried for a more dynamic flexibility.
When we think about our lives, here, in this church today, we can usually s say that we have the work part down. We may not be very good at the rest part, many people in our culture are chronically sleep deprived. But the prayer part? Honestly, other than the occasional snap prayer at a red light, a meal grace, or a halfhearted Lord’s prayer as we go to sleep, one we don’t even finish as we fall unconscious, prayer is not a part of our lives.
It would be hard, however, to really believe that anyone who doesn’t pray is Christian.
Prayer is how we talk to God. More importantly, prayer is how God talks to us.
One of the monks who came to talk to us said something interesting about prayer. As he was talking one morning, he didn’t actually refer to the psalms or the songs as prayer, that which the monks do every day, four or five times every day. That’s not the prayer part, he said. The praying comes in the silences.
To pray is to listen.
Silence is one of the things that is the hardest to obtain in our world. We are deeply uncomfortable with silence. I would experiment with silence in worship, decide that I am going to stay in silence for a minute before a pastoral prayer, and after about 30 seconds, there are already people getting restless, looking at their watches, rustling their bulletins, or looking at each other with desperation in their eyes! (that’s just a slight exaggeration.)
But silence is where the soup gets cooked.
Prayer, and silence, is at such a premium in our lives that it may actually take the discipline of putting it in your calendar, like going to the gym, or scheduling a date night with your significant other.
Then, once you’ve done it, you may not know what to do. That’s where you could read “The Upper Room”, or “Our Daily Bread”, (ODB also has a phone app), or Oswald Chambers “Our Utmost for his Highest”, or anything else you find that is spiritually meaningful to you, including, of course, the Bible itself!
Read it, then set it down and be quiet.
This is where the things of your rushabout life will begin to crowd in; the grocery list, the sudden memory of a child’s uniform that’s still in the dryer, the bills you need to pay, the lawnmower calling to you.
Don’t feel bad about being distracted. It happens to everyone-it happened to Jesus, too. He had asked the disciples to come away to a quiet place, after running here and there, doing the work of God, and the people ran around the side of the lake to meet him on the other side. Set the distraction aside in your mind, and return to the nothing. And listen. If someone pops into your mind, maybe you need to call that person. If an issue that’s troubling you pops up, maybe you can be honest about your feelings about it, and find a way to resolve it.
Like working out, it takes practice. It takes time.
But in prayer is where we can hear God. And if we are serious about being Christians in the real sense of it, what else is there but trying to hear God?
So this is my challenge to you this week. Carve time out, schedule time in for prayer. It can be in the morning, it can be at night, but probably not a good idea to do it after you’ve turned out the light at the end of the day. That’s a good way to only get half of what God might say; you’ll miss the other half because you’re sawing logs!
And be quiet. And listen.
-Pastor Drew, 7/24/12