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Friday, August 01, 2008

Be Still and Know That I Am God

The other morning I stopped into the Adoration Chapel to pray Morning Prayer. The chapel had a few people in it, all retired people, some maybe from the nearby assisted-living. When I stop in during the day, that's the usual "crowd", and it always makes me remember my p's and q's. For example...I feel like I have to be EXTRA quiet, and dress very properly. I know these people remember what it was like prior to Vatican II, and even when I walk in with capris and a nice top, I've caught a glimpse of disapproving stares. I don't belong to a rad-trad parish, but I DO know that we have a large number of very devoted Catholics. And maybe it's my own guilty concience if I wear shorts in the chapel, knowing that my outfit would not be tolerated in many churches in secularized Europe But I digress.

As I was praying the other day, a woman quickly came into the chapel, very reverent, and knelt, in very quick movements, but very reverently. She sat down in the row in front of me, the next chair over, and proceeded to quickly pull out a STACK of printed prayers and devotions. Every movement she made was done very quickly with a sense of almost desperate urgency.

I was kneeling and had my breviary open in front of me, reading quietly, occasionally stopping to digest some line or some other related thought popping into my head. Before she had come, the chapel had been so quiet, so peaceful...but suddenly this person appeared and....well...

She was a fidgiter.

Normally I'm not too disturbed by people coming and going in the chapel. I might look up, but that's my own hyper-vigilance bourne out from years of training and attitude. I'm not usually too bothered by these people and quickly can return to what I'm doing, even forgetting what or whom I saw.

But the fidgiters...they're a whole 'nuther story.

They're very devout, typically, excellent Catholics, know their faith or at least tend to seek more knowledge, and always...they are seeking greater devotion. These people (always women, in my observation) clearly love Jesus and are seeking greater union with Him. It's a wonderful thing, and I love these people. They're the backbone of the parish.

But they don't seem to know what it means to "Be still and know that I am God."

As I'd mentioned, the woman in question came in with a stack of prayers on various papers, and I think she had a few small booklets, too. As she was immediately in front of me and just to the side, I couldn't help but be distracted, no matter how much I tried to focus on my own conversation with our Lord.

She paged through her papers, pulled one and then another out, variously reading them through. Her movements were rapid, she was trying to be quiet, but it wasn't the noise that was distracting; it was the movement. The constant movement. She moved in and out of her row several times, likely for various devotions, only to return to her stack and go through it for the next thing, only to set that down, maybe go through her purse again for another leaflet, maybe finding it in another place.

I don't know what devotions she was trying to complete. All I knew was that her body language of worry and quickness intruded into my own prayer, and made me try even harder to shut it out, to realize I had to be willing to deal with others and their methods of prayers.

In moments like that, I try to remember what St. Therese of Lisieux said about the Sister with the rosary that constantly rattled against the pew. I know that I need to deal with this thorn in my side, and so, in the end, I'm not irritated, only distracted. There's no sin in distraction, only temptation.

The woman in question got out of her pew once again, knelt in the center aisle, crossed herself very quickly and irregularly, several times, and then returned to her seat, collected her things, and left the chapel, quickly, silently. And wasn't that she was making noise. It was her constant movement that was distracting.

On Prayer

So let's talk about prayer a little bit, for this woman is not alone. A priest who was at my parish previously once gave a talk in which this behavior was addressed; he spoke of people who come to the chapel for Adoration, but they bring a stack of prayers and devotions. They don't remain still ; they are constantly in movement, offering their novenas and litanies and list of prayers that * must* be said. And then they leave.

He asked, "Where, in all that, have they had time to LISTEN to Jesus?"

I've taken his words to heart. Although I've never gone so crazy on devotions, the temptation has been there. I've found wonderful novenas, captivating litanies, several prayers applicable to my situation or the situations of others, and really....lots of things that could take up an hour or even a brief visit.

As it is, it's tempting to just drop into the chapel and let loose with my own complaints, supplications and demands. None of us is without a laundry-list of issues to bring to the foot of the cross.

But that's NOT what Adoration is about.

Sure, Our Lord invites us to bring our concerns, ask for help, petition on behalf of others, and pray our litanies that honor Him and His Mother and the Saints. Those prayers are important. But maybe it's even MORE important to just come to Him and sit at His feet, silently, allowing Him, for once, to speak to US. To love us. To be present with us, and help us to understand how to be present with Him.

Adoration is not about the nearly-obsessive compulsion to pray a thousand devotions, to "get through" them each time, no matter how many indulgences they carry. If we're only rushing from one prayer to the next, seeking one indulgence, then another, with a desperate neediness to complete the words in the time we have...that's NOT prayer. It's...words. It's EXACTLY what Jesus cautioned us AGAINST! The multiplication of words does not get us or others to heaven!

One Hail Mary, spoken deliberately and with devotion, is far more valuable than a thousand litanies spoken without a thought other than to get the words out in a specific period of time.

I love devotions, and many devotions draw us into contemplation. But not when we're praying one devotion while thinking about the next one we HAVE to complete during our "prayer time."

Compare it to this: You are going to visit a friend you highly respect and love dearly, more so than your own life. And so, when you visit them, you rush in, skip a calm "hello" in favor of rattling off a bunch of things you think this person needs to know. And as soon as you get through your list, you're off. In the meantime, your dear friend listens patiently, not able to get a word in edgewise, and then in exasperation watches you rush off, knowing that he has something to say to you that, for once, will give you some peace.

And the amazing thing...this friend will take this abuse over and over, as long as He needs to.

But what He really wants is a relationship with you.

Jesus appreciates the honor of your visit, the litanies, the intercessions, and WANTS to hear of your troubles. Even though He already knows you more intimately that you know yourself, He wants you to talk to Him about it. And He wants to respond to you. And sometimes, like any good friend, he wants to just spend time with you, even in silence.

There's nothing like companionable silence, where both understand one another and can simply exist together.

THAT is contemplation.

So many sincerely devout Catholics become so focused on what is written that they forget that prayer is relational and requires reception of the other half of the conversation. And sometimes, it requires hearing ALL of the side of the other.

It's not that I'm not guilty of this. I've gone into the chapel with my own laundry list, and even now that I'm praying LOH, I have to take care not to rush through the prayers because sometimes Jesus uses only one line to get my attention. If I'm praying a litany, sometimes it's one title that makes me stop.

Sometimes the devotion isn't about completing the devotion, but being willing to listen to Jesus as He tells us what about that prayer is important in our relationship with Him.

In speaking with a priest this afternoon, we both lamented that people can't seem to get through the written devotions in order to grasp the beauty of contemplative prayer. It's not that everyone experiences mysticism, but rather, that they are willing to put aside the STUFF and just engage with Jesus, one on one.

There are so many beautiful devotions in our tradition, and they ARE important; but they are only tools. If we let the tools take control, then we are not developing a relationship with our Beloved; we are building obstacles.

So to all Catholics who love Jesus and love their devotions; please take note of what you're doing with your time and take even a day to leave your stack home. Just be present with Jesus, knowing that even if you don't know what to say...He DOES. And if you ALLOW Him to speak, you'll be amazed at what He has to say.

I promise.

For those of you who don't have the Blessed Sacrament exposed, know that Christ is just as present in the Tabernacle, and values your presence there where He is hidden just as much as He does where He is exposed in the monstrance. Truth be told, although my parish has Perpetual Adoration, I've had some of my most intimate encounters with God in the church where Christ is present but enclosed.

Jesus is there. He is waiting, and all he needs is a little bit of silence...and He will change your life forever.

I promise.


Hidden One said...

I like this post of yours very much, Adoro.

Lillian Marie said...

Wow! Thank you for the reminder!

All too often I go into Adoration distracted. I found that if I give Jesus my 'laundry list' of challenges, temptations, problems, etc. in the first 5 minutes, I am able to listen to Him the remainder of the time that I am there. It's almost as if I have to get it out before I can listen, otherwise, I will be fidgety (and have been fidgety) before the Lord.

If I do this, by the time I leave, I am so relaxed and I realize that nothing else matters, other than Him. He will provide for everything else in my life that I need.

Great post!!!

Banshee said...

The worst thing is that, when I'm feeling fidgety or nervous, or feel like I'm making too much noise or moving too awkwardly, it tends to make me fidget even more!

Anonymous said...

Maureen ~ Yeah, me, too!

Anonymous said...

Adoro, I think you forget there are different types of prayer, and all are legitimate. I consider the hundreds / thousands of souls who have reached high states of holiness, using only vocal prayer (the ones on sheets!). It's NOT my style, either... but it is equally pleasing to God, if that is as far as they've come. Infused contemplation is a gift, and not everyone is ready for it. You can't MAKE a soul into a contemplative. You can't even make YOURSELF into a contemplative! God must bring a soul to that point!

Anonymous said...

smk ~ I think you misunderstand! I'm not in any way denigrating the use of vocal prayer and I use it, too. I'm also not a contemplative; I've never experienced infused prayer, as far as I know. Most people don't.

The point is that rushing from one thing to the next and rattling off a bunch of words doesn't allow God to speak. Not matter what form of prayer we're using, we HAVE to give God a chance to respond. Some people literally take their list of prayers to the level of superstition - "If I don't say all these prayers, God won't be pleased and He won't answer my prayers. I HAVE to say all these prayers or it won't work!" Do they realize they're doing that? No, of course not. And are they holy people? Sure!

So please don't take this post to be a slam!

Melody K said...

Adoro, I know what you mean by the "fidgeters". I also think "whisperers" are a sub-variety of this. There are several good, devout people in our parish who whisper their prayers; the rosary or whatever devotion they are doing. If they happen to be in church (where sound travels very well) during my Adoration hour, they drive me nuts! Which is a failure on my part rather than theirs. I take comfort that the Little Flower also was bothered by annoying things other people did. But I'm nowhere near her level of selflessness.

Anonymous said...

Well, I'm ashamed to say it, but I'm a fidgeter! :) I don't get to go to Adoration as much as I'd like but when I do go I feel very awkward. On Sundays the church is alive with movement and muffled whispers, but during Adoration it's so quiet you could hear a pin drop. Every move I make I feel like someone is watching me. Thankfully, we have a Divine Mercy Chapel to the side of the altar. You can still see the monstrance in there, so I go there instead. I'm always alone in there and can concentrate.
Beautiful writing! I'm enjoying reading through your posts. You mirror a lot of what I'm feeling most of the time. I just have a very difficult time getting it out. Keep up the good work!

Anonymous said...

Adoro, I am not Catholic but I do agree with what you have said. We "rush" God with our prayers and don"t wait for Him to answer us because we are controlled by time instead of remembering that God created time and is in control of it. I have been guilty of this myself but I have learned that if I really want an answer to my prayer that I must be still, let go, to release, myself (time) to Him so that I will know without a doubt that He is God and will speak to me.

Adoro said...

Thanks for your comment, Anon, and your observation. I do think that this problem isn't limited to our respective religions! I'm just grateful that God is so patient with us!

Patricia said...

Great post! Anyone who does adoration regularly can identify with your experience.

I like to begin adoration with a very slowly said (not aloud!) decade of the Rosary to quiet my soul.

But my favorite way to pray is just to imagine myself resting on the heart of Jesus -- like St. John. Sometimes I picture myself as a little girl all dressed up with ribbons in her hair, and she is hugging onto Jesus for dear life! Other times, she simply falls alseep in his blessed arms, and he leans over and kisses her cheek and strokes her hair.

NO words, just resting in Him. Whenever I do this, I come away feeling so peaceful.

Thank You Jesus for allowing such intimacies, and for remaining with us in your Most Blessed Sacrament!

Vivien said...

I love this post. I'm a recent convert to Catholicism and just getting used to the litanies and devotions and prayers. It's very easy for me to get caught up in the words and simply rush through them to be done. Thanks for reminding me to take my time and actually think about what I am praying and what Christ wants me to see from it.

Adoro said...

Vivien ~ Thanks for your comment and Welcome Home!

We all try to keep from rushing through words. I still work on this with the Liturgy of the Hours, but a religious sister gave me a very proper rebuke one day.

I was visiting a contemplative community and joined Sister for prayer. As I read, she followed but after prayer she chuckled at me. "I can tell you're not used to contemplative prayer." It had to do with the speed at which I'd read the psalms...I rushed. I had to learn to slow down, and take my cue from their community.

LOL...that lesson has remained with me! Even for an active community, I had been rushing!