Thursday, January 24, 2013

Praying the Day, Morning Edition

A friend of mine emailed the other day and asked for advice on prayer. I'd like this post to be the first of several that says a little something both about why we pray and how to pray.

When I was in the 4th grade, our religion class was taught once each week by Sister Victoria. To my 10-year old mind, she was an ancient and towering figure: dressed in a nondescript skirt suit with sensible shoes, Sister towered over the classroom and easily held a group of unruly students in rapt attention as she recounted the life of the various lives of the saints. It was her special ability to make the holy men and women of the Church vibrant and interesting.

At some point, she gave us this simple advice about prayer:

Every morning when you wake up, don't jump out of bed. Don't complain to your mom or dad that you are sick or that you don't want to go to school. Instead, have a good stretch and say, "Good morning, Lord. How are you today?" Then, go through your day with Jesus and ask him to be with you throughout the day. If you have a test, ask him for help. If you are nervous about something, tell him about it. If you are excited, ask him to make whatever you are excited about even more special.

"Good morning, Lord. How are you today?" 22 years later, I still start every morning off this way. I stretch and I extend my greeting. Each evening, I set my alarm five minutes earlier than I need to get up so that I have time to "Pray the Day" before my feet hit the floor. At 5:00 am, it's hardly anything sophisticated but the following is not an untypical example of this:

Well, Good morning, Lord. How're things? Thank you for a restful night of sleep. Today's going to be a really hectic day. I have two classes and a lot of reading to do, a short paper to write, and I'd like to have time to exercise today. Please be with me this morning during class so that I stay alert and avoid the temptation to surf the net when my mind wanders. Speaking of class, please be with the professor who continues to fight against his cancer. If you wouldn't mind, remind me to be careful about what I eat today: I'm noticing that it's getting a bit too easy to eat too much, or to have that extra glass of wine with dinner, and I really need to be mindful of my diet. Finally, please help me to make sure that I carve out some time to spend with so-and-so. It seems like he's a bit down lately and I want to check-in with him to see how he's doing. Oh, I'm also excited to watch Downton Abbey tonight - I missed it on Sunday when I was traveling and I'm really looking forward to watching it this evening. 

St. John of the Cross I am not, but I find this a very helpful way of beginning my day. That is, I look ahead and pray the day with the Lord, looking together with him at the day ahead, anticipating both the joys and struggles of the upcoming day.

Why pray in this way? Well, it's easy. My first thought each day is that I do not undertake my day all alone, nor am I living the day simply for myself. Even a day spent writing papers or doing research is done in the company of the One who is innermost to my heart and life. My morning prayer, as simple as what I wrote above, reminds me of this and starts my day off on the right foot...even before I've swung my feet out of bed and onto the carpet!

***

I recognize that the following may not always be possible, particularly if one has a spouse who would be a bit chuffed over your alarm going off earlier than necessary or who, upon realizing that you're not moving yet, becomes anxious that you've fallen back asleep. This prayer could just as easily be said in the shower. The shower seems like a great place pray the day, considering that most of our bathing routines are rote, freeing our minds to do other things. Instead of turning on the radio, perhaps allow the shower to provide the white noise that frees your mind to turn inward and ask for the grace to face the day.

My next post will look at the prayer I do before going to bed each night, the several minutes I take to review the day. Made famous by Saint Ignatius Loyola, the Examen is a chance to take an additional 5 minutes to review the day's "film" to see how well, or poorly, or mindfully you lived your day with, and for, God's greater glory.

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