Friday, October 05, 2007

I'm Too Tired to Pray (the Way I Want)

Let me return briefly to the general theme I outlined two weeks ago--prayer and work.

The last few weeks have been EXTREMELY busy for me--in addition to a great deal of traveling, I've had to submit two conference proposals (one of which, on the Jesus Prayer for a group composed primarily of Evangelical Christian psychologists, social workers and pastoral, was accepted earlier this week). At the beginning of this week, I was in Cleavland, OH an observer at the Assembly for the Diocese of the Mid-West (OCA). And, oh yeah, my mother arrived yesterday for a visit ("Hi Mom!").

So needless to say, I have not been very faithful in my blogging.

And also, and not expectedly, I have often found myself saying this week, "I'm too tired to pray." This isn't a happy experience for me and in fact I feel quite bad when I am so tired that even television is a bit of an intellectual stretch for me.

But over the years as I've thought about my own pray life, to say nothing of finding myself at least partially responsible for the pray life of other people, I come to realize that the experience of being too tired to pray is real an invitation to deepen my own spiritual life.

Strictly speaking "I'm too tired to pray" is a comparative statement. "I'm too tired to pray"... "the way I did yesterday," or... "to pray the way I want to," or ... "to pray the way I should" (or at any rate "think I should"). In one way or another my being too tired to pray calls into question my relationship with my own pray life. It also calls into question the decision I make about how I spent my day.

Let's look at each in turn.

Christians really do need to have a daily rule of prayer or a rule of life (are the priests listening!). Without one I am simply adrift in my day. Without a firm grounding in daily prayer I am subject to all sorts of temptations. While eventually we all stumble, without the habit of daily prayer, my stumbling to temptation will eventually undermine not only my spiritual life, but my work life, my family life and if I don't get back on track in time, my salvation.

So a daily rule of prayer is a powerful part of our spiritual lives. But it can also be in its own way a great temptation. Basically once I fulfill my rule of prayer I can allow myself to think that I've done my duty to God, or worse, that I really have accomplished something that gives me bragging rights in the presence of God and my neighbors.

But of course, I don't have bragging rights at all do I?

When I find myself too tried to pray I have the opportunity to humbly accept my limitations and to remember that prayer is never really my work. Prayer is a gift, a grace that God grants me. If this or that day finds me too tired to pray, well, so be it.

The problem to keep my eyes open for is when too tired to pray becomes too busy to pray. When that happens I have slipped rather far from the Gospel life. This temptation is an especially common, and deadly, one for clergy. It is very easy for clergy to reduce our prayer life to the "objective" side of prayer: the Liturgy, the sacraments, etc.

Even if I celebrate the Liturgy, for example, with attention and devotion this is different from actually praying the Liturgy. Having spoken to a number of priests and deacons I have come to appreciate how difficult it is for many of us to actually pray at Liturgy.

Whether we say the Jesus Prayer, or turn to the Psalms, or practice some form of lectio divina, Christians must be men and women of regular, daily prayer. And this prayer must be a deep as God's grace and the circumstance of our life allow. It can be difficult sometimes, but we need to offer to God at least some small part of our day, even if it is nothing more than the desire to pray.

Prayer regulars discipline, commitment, but above all humility. When I fail to pray as I want or as I ought, I think it is good to take this an opportunity to reflect on not simply my "spiritual life," but the whole of my life. When I do this, I might discover some assumption I am making about my life, about how I use my time, and well, who knows what else, that might be useful for me as I strive to remain faithful to Jesus Christ.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

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