(Bob) From the time I was a small child, prayer was part of my life. We always prayed at meals and said our bedtime prayers. My mother was devoted to the rosary and every night we would all, except my dad who sat in his chair, kneel by a chair to pray it. I sometimes wonder if the kneeling has something to do with the fact that I have never had a strong attachment to the rosary. The prayers we learned were mostly the rote prayers like the Our Father and Hail Mary and grace before and after meals. It seemed that all prayers were formal and that it was important to say many prayers a day. In my adult years when I read or listened to speakers about how we should pray it most often involved a home chapel, a statue or picture, maybe a crucifix in a corner with some candles and a place to kneel. I remember Joseph Cardinal Bernadin speaking about how his life improved when he started this practice. I understood that a proper prayer life included spending some time, at least 20 or 30 min daily in quiet and intense prayer. Anything less and I didn’t really measure up as a prayerful person. Unfortunately, I never did measure up and often wondered why I didn’t have a better prayer life.
The reality of our lives is that we are married and we are bombarded with things to do. We should be spending quality time each day with each other. We have children whose needs are many and interfere with our time together. We have jobs that don’t end at what should be the end of the work day and we should be engaged in a healthy fitness program. With busy schedules that can’t be well controlled, that time for quiet contemplation probably won’t happen, even if we put the time in our schedule. I thought I had the answer, so I prayed: “God, I think I can do this, but there is just one thing I need from you. May I have a longer day?”
Last week we spent a few days touring New England and stopped at a Shaker settlement in New Hampshire. There we learned that the Shakers considered their work to be one way that they worshipped God, so that work was very important to them. That reminded me that the contemplative Catholic religious orders which observe the rule of St. Benedict, such as the Trappists, have this same approach to work.
When we wrote a presentation on Couple Prayer, we found two definitions of prayer that support this idea.
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, 20th Cent Theologian –
“God … is not far away from us, …apart from the world we see, touch, hear, smell and taste about us. Rather, he awaits us in every instant in our action, in the work of the moment. There is a sense in which He is at the tip of my pen, my spade, my brush, my needle – of my heart and of my thought.”
William Roberts, contemporary theologian, –
“Prayer is the human response to God, who is already communicating with us. Our prayer response is offered not only in those periods when we are formally or consciously ‘praying,’ but also in everything we do or say in answer to God’s will.”
The good news is that these definitions offer another possibility for our daily prayer. They tell us that we can, as St. Paul says: “Pray unceasingly” as we go about our daily schedules – having time together, caring for our children, doing our jobs, exercising and even making love. I find reassurance in the possibility that all of these are prayer.
(Rita) Somewhere in my life journey I learned that prayer is not merely something we do but it is who we are. As we have both been retired the past year Bob and I have had numerous discussion about the place prayer has in our “new” life together. We have talked with other retired couples, priests and friends. In that process I have also looked back at my childhood and recognized how important a role prayer played in both my parents’ lives. My father was a farmer and each year prayed for a successful growing year for the crops he planted. Mass was an essential part of his life. As a child, because of the communion fast, we often went to Mass twice each Sunday, early morning low mass and communion and then back for high mass. My mother, for as long as I can remember of her life, set aside time for prayer each day. As she aged she increased that to longer periods of time. She didn’t care where she was, who she was with or what she was doing- she always took time for prayer. We quickly learned, as did grandchildren that she was not to be disturbed during that time, unless it was an emergency. As a family we too prayed the rosary. Contrary to Bob I find comfort in the rosary and pray it for comfort and Thanksgiving. I learned to lead prayer in many situations in my life but became most comfortable in that role as a classroom religion teacher. Feedback from former students often tells me that these were some of my best lesson plans.
Prayer naturally became a part of our life together. At Bob’s mother’s suggestion we prayed together throughout our dating years and continued that throughout our marriage. As years passed the form of our couple prayer changed and continues to change. It has and does include formal prayer such as always praying before meals. Even that takes on different forms, depending on who is joining us around the table. We have prayed with Scripture both in meditation and written reflections. Sometimes prayer for us is quite simple such as when we are out somewhere and find that elusive parking place, I say a simple “Thank you, Jesus.” I’ve taught our grandchildren the same approach to prayer and they often add after grace before meals petitions such as: help us sell our house, let mommy find a job, take care of great-grandma.
Going back to where I began, if prayer is not merely what I do but who I am, then all of what I do is for the honor and glory of God. Simple household tasks become a form of prayer, responding to pie making requests, doing laundry for them when visiting our children, etc. These things keep me close to God. While I manage some part of each day in prayer, I have never developed the practice that my mother had. But then, just as we are individuals and are individual couples what we do in prayer is not as important as offering our lives to God and then seeing where that takes us.
We believe that God is pleased with us when we do His will so it is good to reflect on what we do that is God’s will. It includes changing diapers, teaching your children prayers, doing the laundry, washing the car, giving an employer an honest day’s work, donating to charity, calling a neighbor who is ill to check on her condition, caring for your spouse, celebrating a birthday, even making love – just doing the normal things we do every day. We suggest starting your day with a short prayer, dedicating your day to God. Some couples do this as they wake up, facing each other in bed and saying their prayer together. At the end of the day, before you fall asleep, thank God for giving you another day to love and serve him in the way you lived the day. We find this to be a practical way to heed St. Paul’s admonition to “Pray unceasingly.”
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