Today I'm feeling pretty low-key. I've mentioned I've been keeping the hours, but trying not to be legalistic about it. I remember my first prayer book, the wonderful Divine Hours compliled by Phyllis Tickle. Until I got my hands on the DH, my Evangelical life left little room for prayer books. I had books that were like prayer books, mostly from the Word of Faither camp, but they tended to be pages and pages of positive confessions. Yes, they were Word based, but I always felt I was barking orders at God, or telling Him what He already knew. I dunno. It just didn't feel right to me. But I tried. And failed.
So, when I got the first volume of the DH, it was like a gentle wind of Spirit blowing into my life. Only, I got legalistic about it. If I didn't pray those prayers exactly to the minute on the hour or half hour, I felt like I was breaking that great chain of prayer that Phyllis writes and speaks so beautifully about, a chain that links us together, all over the world, continually. Man, that makes me a little sad, that I couldn't enjoy the praying because I got stuck on an idea that I put way too much weight on. What was I expecting? I haven't lived most of my life with that kind of attention. I've said too many times here I can't find my shoes many days. So, as much as I loved the DH it left me feeling mildly guilty, which was not conducive to progress.
I purchased Christian Prayer, the one volume Liturgy of Hours shortly after I became Catholic. Oh, Lord! I had to write Phyllis and thank her for the ease of use of the DH. I felt like I needed a degree in that book, or a long, expensive apprenticeship with some veteran pray-er who would treat me badly until I learned. She laughed when I told her this. "Miserable, isn't it?" she said, "But if you stick with it you'll find untold treasures." I stuck with it. Not in any way that would impress you. What I'm saying is that I didn't get rid of the book. Sometimes I managed to pick it up. Sometimes. But I've picked it up lots in these last few days post-Ash Wednesday, and it's become an invaluable tool to burrowing more deeply into the heart of God.
I've also been reading Brother David Steindl-Rast's absolutely lovely, "The Music of Silence." You can find out more about his method of praying the hours at www.gratefulness.org. I've gotten so much out of his book. Brother David teaches me that what's most important is giving myself to God in the hours of prayer. And you know what I figured out? I'm still somewhere in that chain of worldwide pray-ers. Everything is cool. God appreciates that I'm showing up. It's a heart thing. Lord, deliver me from my fundamentalism!
One of the goals of Christian prayer manuals, I believe, is to assist believers in the ancient practice of praying the Psalms. It's a useful thing to do, lovies, life changing. I don't think you can keep praying the Psalms without gaining a measure of humility. If you are listening you'll hear pretty early on how good and majestic God is. If you're disconnected from nature it will remind you of its many gifts. And I'm afraid you'll also see how messy human beings are. We can learn a lot from the Psalms, even the vengeful ones. Mercy! How telling they are. But come on, we've all felt those strong and terrible emotions. And here, we see we aren't alone. There is always redemption in the Psalms. And I'm telling you, a prayer book makes it a lot easier to begin a journey into their depths.
Today, I struggled to stay focused on the words. Several times I caught myself bored, and even thinking "how repetitive." How telling was that. Maybe it's repetitive because it'd take a while for me to get into the zone. I had to check myself. Slow down. Savor the words. Be mindful. And I did, until I saw a lot less of me and my boredom and monkey chatter, and more of Him. God got bigger in my mind today as I prayed, and I got smaller. As the Psalmist cried out of his pain, I remembered my own, and yours, and everyone's. We are all so fragile. The words "Remember that you are dust," are played out in the psalms, dramatically, over and over. But we aren't just dust they remind us. We are beloved dust that God has breathed His life into. Who are we that God is mindful--there's that word again, only it's about God!--of us? That's pretty powerful isn't it? We don't deserve God's concern, and yet He freely gives it. And you know what, the Psalms are a blow to one's self-importance. It's definitely an underdog's book. You can't miss God's concern for the poor if you read them. Want to beef up your social justice. The Psalms will help with that.
In the mail today I got my rejection letter from the University of Michigan. I applied to their MFA in Creative Writing program. It's humbling to think that it's likely that several undergrads were deemed more worthy to study there than Ms. Published author, but I am dust, lovies. For a minute those vengeful Psalms sounded good! But more than the embarrassment I felt, I realized something important, and I think it's because my head has been in the Psalms. No matter how small and insignificant I feel, the Great God of All sees me. He didn't want me in that program. He knew my heart isn't in teaching fiction at a university. I want to be in a House of Hospitality, but sometimes, I think I know what's best for me, and usually, I'm not listening to my heart, but the monkey chatter in the brain. But God looked out for me, closed a door that wasn't mine to walk into, humbled me, and assured me that in His great love He'd provide. A canticle I pray daily now--it's in the prayer book--is resounding in my soul today. It isn't in the Psalms, but it's certainly as poetic. It's the Magnificat, the song of Our Lady when she received the Lord into her body. Wow! That gives me some new insight into Holy Communion. Ironically, on this day that I've been rejected from a writing program, I'm remembering how tears streamed down my face when I got the first copy of my first book in the mail. I couldn't stop crying, and managed to step over to my altar and choke out what? The Magnificat. It was the only thing I could think of to express how I felt. Have you ever prayed that? I challenge you to do so. It may surprise you what God reveals:
My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
my spirit rejoices in God my Savior
for He has looked with favor on his lowly servant.
From this day all generations will call me blessed:
the Almighty has done great things for me,
and holy is His Name.
He has mercy on those who fear Him
in every generation.
He has shown the strength of His arm,
He has scattered the proud in their conceit.
He has cast down the mighty from their thrones,
and has lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich He has sent away empty.
He has come to the help of His servant Israel
for He has remembered His promise of mercy.
the promise He made to our fathers,
to Abraham and his children forever.
Now that's a prayer, lovies. Amen!