One of the most practical, yet profound, statements about how to practice contemplative spirituality comes from Brother Michael, OCSO, monk of Holy Spirit Monastery, Conyers, Ga., and one of our Junior Lay Cistercian instructors. He made a presentation on what it means to be a Cistercian. He told us, “Pray as you can, not as you can’t.” What seems like a rather trivial phrase, at first glance, is actually quite profound, especially as it pertains to Lay Cistercian spirituality.
Monks seclude themselves from the distractions of the world. This does not shield them from distraction but helps them to focus on loving God with their whole heart, their whole soul and their whole strength and their neighbor as themselves. Lay Cistercians try to emulate the Cistercian practices and charisms of the monks and nuns but are less protected from the intrusions of work, family, friends, even church ministries. Distractions or temptations that this is a waste of time or too difficult to do are constantly assaulting the Lay Cistercian. It is in offering up the temptation that is part of prayer. Pray as and when you can. Here are some of the ways I pray in snatches.
TRADER JOE PRAYERS — I go to Trader Joe Supermarkets a lot, or rather my wife goes and I drive her (that’s what retired old, broken-down Lay Cistercians do best). My point is I do my Lectio Divina while waiting in the car. Twenty minutes of silence and solitude in the car (no radios) is just what I need to focus on the moment. Pray as you can.
EUCHARISTIC ADORATION – I attend some part of a holy hour each weekday at my parish. We have the good fortune to have Eucharistic Adoration, exposition of the Blessed Sacrament for an hour a day. One of the other parishes has 24 Eucharistic Adoration. How rich is that?
WAITING FOR THE PHYSICIAN — I go to the physician a lot for follow up. Since having cardiac arrest in 2007 and Leukemia (CLL type) in 2014, I find myself at the physicians’ officers more than most. I take my Liturgy of the Hours with me and read a mid-day prayer or Chapter 4 of my Rule of St. Benedict. Saying Chapter 4 over an over puts me in a fame of mind for doing good works.
YOU ARE WHAT YOU PRAY — I say little prayers every day to tell God that I am grateful for his grace and mercy. These little prayers are just spontaneous ways to express what is in your heart. My favorite is: Jesus Christ, Son of David, have mercy on me, a sinner. I say it over an over while driving in the car. It does not cause me to be distracted and produces grace for me to convert myself from self to God.
I don’t consider myself a fanatic about all this contemplative practice stuff, but I can recognize that the more I focus on Christ, even as a Lay Cistercian in the world, the more Christ can fill up in me that which I lack. It is the capacitas dei or the capacity for me to hold more and more God and less and less me. If I have a bad habit, such as being lazy when I want to do Lectio Divina or participate in the Eucharist, I must replace it with good works, such as denying myself and my secular temptations to pray as I can.
That in all things, may God be glorified. St. Benedict