HABIT: The Practice of Contemplative Practice

One of the unique behaviors that come from my practice of Lay Cistercian spirituality is quite unexpected and almost hidden from my consciousness, almost. I am more and more aware of the importance of habii in my prayer life.

In my Lectio Divina (Phl 2:5), I reflected on what it takes to have in me the mind of Christ Jesus, given that I am just beginning my journey using Cistercian spiritual practices and attempting to have charisms of humility and obedience, silence and solitude as part of the way I think (without thinking about them). I thought of my dentists, Dr. Edwardo Hubard, and Dr. Robert Murrell, both excellent practicioners and superb in their fields. I thought of how much skill it took to perfect their craft and how much practice is an integral part of acceomplishment and a final product.


As a Lay Cistercian, devoted to converting my life to Christ using Cistercian principles of silence, solitude, work, prayer, and community, I must also have the same passion for excellence, in this case, I call it fierce love, love that goes far beyond the what the World says is love, to a place of emptying self to fill yourself with the love of Christ. This takes work. Another word for that work is practice. A characteristic of that practice is habit. As a newly professed Lay Cistercian, for me that means not only having a schedule for my life of conversion but also the fortitude to do it consistently, as in “..take up your cross daily and follow me.” What is often overlooked when thinking of taking up the cross is the “daily” aspect. This habit of prayer is key in my transformation from self to God. For example, if I go to Morning Prayers and recieve the Liturgy of the Hours, rosary, then Eucharist each morning, the routine of prayer has an effect. Monks and nuns go to a monastery so that they can experience the habit of prayer without distractions only to find out that the distraction takes another form, to be habitual in prayer or to sleep in or complete a task that will not wait,  That is true for me as well. My big temptation as I write these words is to skip Morning Prayer because I am on a roll and the Holy Spirit has the spigot turned on and I can’t turn it off. What a subtle temptation, but one that strikes to the heart of the effects of Original Sin. I have noticed that Lay Cistercians differ from Cistercian monks and nuns in their approach to habitual schedule. When you go to a monastic website http://www.trappist.net, one of the headings is usually called schedule. The monastic life has a template in this schedule, and conformity is the norm, not the exception. In my own Lay Cistercian experiences, I have a schedule but it is more loosely followed. There are always interruptions to my prayer life, honey-dos, trips to Trader Joe’s Market, going to the public library to browse for the lastest Newt Gingrich book, or health related appointments. I try to keep the schedule that I have made for myself, based on my living in the World. What has been an eye opener to me is my acceptance of all these distractions as a normal part of my prayer to the Father through Christ. My habit of prayer is not a schedule, although I do have scheduled Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer times, but also that I remember, and look foward to Lectio Divina, Adoration before the Blessed Sacrament, and silence and solitude in contemplation, where I can snatch a few moments.  It is the time I take leading up to and after my non-scheduled practice that is part of love. Love, in the fierce sense of that word, is making time to be with the One with whom you take so much fulfillment and transformation.

Take up your cross DAILY and follow me. What a joy!

Praise to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, now and forever. The God who is, who was and who wil be, at the end of the ages. Amen and Amen.  –Cistercian doxology


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