Friday, May 8, 2009

Prayer 2.0

Self-mortification may now be forbidden by the Roman Catholic Church, but that has never stopped me from self-flagellation for almost always being late for prayer.

By being "late for prayer" I mean being late for formally convened morning (Matins), evening (Vespers), and night (Compline) prayer. I'm always on time for spontaneous utterances of gratitude, grief, or petition to God.

If you stay at a monastery where the Liturgy of the Hours (LoTH) is chanted, I'm the retreatant running -- silently, of course -- down the halls, through the cloister walk, and slipping into her seat midway through the first psalm. I've also replayed this scene in suburban churches and city cathedrals. My practice of being late for practice is interfaith as well as ecumenical. During the ashram years, for example, I was late for morning meditation and evening Aarti.

My seemingly chronic lateness for devotions even happens in the sanctified privacy of my hermitage. Now, thanks to twitter, I've stopped making myself oh-so-wrong for being oh-so-tardy for devotions. I joyfully participate in Prayer 2.0, which currently involves following TheUrbanAbbey. The Abbess posts morning and evening prayer in 140 character tweets.

Goofy? Not at all.

I seem more inclined to pay attention to what I'm praying when I have time to read, repeat, and digest it at my own pace. Something about this medium compels me to sit still long enough to contemplate, "Lord come to my assistance, make haste to help me," rather than hastening on to the next line in what might otherwise become rote prayer. Indeed, I've been jolted out of rote prayer because The Urban Abbey uses a variety of Anglican and Episcopal resources, including prayers from the exquisite New Zealand prayerbook.

I love how Prayer 2.0 frees me from the constraints of praying morning prayer at some dreadful hour -- sacred for some; ungodly for me. Meanwhile, having the call to prayer pop up on my computer monitor has become a powerful incentive to simply stop whatever I'm so busily doing and attend. It's the 21st century and, mea mongo culpa, the screen prompt has more impact than church bells, allowing me to pray in a very disciplined undisciplined way.


  1. I'm curious why you state "self-mortification may now be forbidden by the Church..."

    Christians remain free to mortify themselves in a variety of ways, and should do so to acquire virtue and combat vice.

    Interior mortifications might include: choosing to not verbally respond to others' actions and words a certain number of times per day, though you might want to respond; deliberating making a mental act of humility any time you say or think or do something prideful; and so on.

    External mortifications might include: various degrees of fasting and abstinence; taking cold showers, cutting back on sleep and other times of relaxation; imposing silence on oneself at various times; making one's food or beverages unpleasantly bitter; and so on.

    More severe external mortifications are also allowed: self-flagellation, the cilice, pricking ones hand with a needle, hair shirts; and there are others.

    Generally, mortifications of any kind, degree and quantity should be run by a spiritual director or confessor; and his or her advice should be carefully followed.

    In the long run, continual efforts at interior mortification coupled to frequent examinations of conscience are a greater resource for personal reform. Exterior mortifications seem to be of most value when the passions have become inflamed and the sinner needs some help to curb his fleshly desires.

    The problem is that many persons engage in the latter without the supervision of a spiritual director, and the exact opposite happens -- motives become twisted, pride becomes inflated ("look how much I can make myself suffer!"), and the passions take greater hold. :: read it and live it every day, and you too can become saintly.

  2. Hi Meredith,

    My name is Monica, I was researching for catholic blog owners interested in praying The Liturgy of the Hours. It sadden me to see that my dear website, that came to light through so much dedication and hard work, is not mentioned anywhere. It is my pleasure to invite you and all your readers to join our catholic community and Pray with us! If you find the time to do so, please let me know what is your opinion regarding our service. Thank you so much and God bless!

  3. I'm curious of how this discipline lines up with I Thes. 5:16-18 "Rejoice evermore. Pray without ceasing. In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you."

    Although I can understand the discipline involved in the process, I am struck by the discipline being a driver instead of "love" driving. With love, there is no fear (mortification/flagellation) for God does not give us the spirit of fear, but of love and a sound mind.

    I'm teaching Genesis right now, and am in the great canyon between chapters 1- 11:9 and the rest of the book and I'm reminded, after researching each of the 257 verses where Abraham is mentioned, that it was not by "works of righteousness" that he had done, but by simply faith - "he believed God, and it counted to him for righteousness." I believe that God was me to integrate the sacred and the secular so that, no matter what circumstance surrounds me, my focus is on him (in prayer with thanksgiving that I can trust HIM and not the events) and I don't have to discipline myself to set periods of prayer (a "work" of righteousness for which I can feel guilt, remorse, whatever, for not completing).

    So, how does this all fit?


  4. Griff -- it all fits in my head/heart/life! I see no conflict between the invitation to "pray without ceasing" and embracing the spiritual practice of praying the Daily Office/Liturgy of the Hours. I do both and appreciate how a formal call to prayer and set of prayers wakes me up when I go unconscious and cease to pray without ceasing!


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