The Angelus tolls in the crisp air, and I am reminded of the gift of God bestowed to the Virgin Mary. As the bell continues its patterned ring, I speak my prayers and offer my heart to the Lord. May this pause offer an opportunity to be mindful of Christ in my life and to keep Him present throughout my day.
The Angelus is one of many reminders we have throughout our busy days to stop and pause and pray to God. We say grace at meals. We pray before going to bed. We pray when we get up. We pray before taking a test. We pray during church. We pray at the flag pole. We teach our children what prayer is and when we should pray. We teach them specific prayers that we say at certain times of the day. As we get older, we have memorized prayers that we rely upon for strength, peace, guidance, temperance. These words offer us comfort, help to calm us, give us courage when we need it, reconnect us to our Father and God.
Fr. John-Julian, the Order of Julian of Norwich, designates a certain type of prayer, a “still” prayer, as “a state rather than an action.” We pray at certain times and at events throughout our days and during our lives. Fr. Julian takes our understanding of prayer deeper from that of an act that we do to a way that we are. Prayer is a moment of sharing a conversation with God. Prayer can also be more than just a moment; it can be a way of being that transcends the ticks on a clock.
God longs for us to speak with Him, to spend time with Him. In the beautiful lyrics from musician Larnelle Harris, “I miss my time with you, those moments together, I need to be with you each day, and it hurts me when you say you’re too busy, busy trying to serve me, but how can you serve me when your spirit’s empty.” God calls us to be with Him, and I believe He delights when we respond to His call and share moments of our life with Him. I also believe that He aches to be with us during ALL moments. 1 Thessalonians 5:17 prompts us to “pray without ceasing.” According to the verse, we are to be in a constant state of prayer.
But what does “pray without ceasing” look like? No, perhaps we don’t get on our knees, clasp our hands together, close our eyes, and speak our prayers to God. While some of our daily prayers may have that specific posture, God does not require that structured action. Still, or contemplative, prayer is a quiet from within that fills the spaces and centers our minds and hearts on God. Much like we can have a jar of pebbles that might represent our more formal prayers throughout the day, still prayer could be like the fresh water we pour into the jar that fills the spaces between the pebbles. In still prayer we are open to God’s voice and direction; we are thinking of “what is true, noble, righteous, and lovely” (Philippians 4:8).
As the final echo of the Angelus fades from the air, my thoughts and attention resumes on the tasks at hand and the business of the day. However, my heart and spirit remain connected with God through the Holy Spirit. May we seek God and respond to His voice not only in the specific moments during the day but also within the quiet spaces as well.
Before the days of cell phones and texting, many children knew when it was time to go indoors in the evening by the sunset. When that last sliver of the sun sank into the horizon, we knew we had to stop playing hide and seek or riding our bikes or fishing for crawdads at the creek. Before that sun completely went away for the night, we had to be in the yard and on our way through our front doors. When I was little, about 6 or 7, I wanted to play outside past dark. Jimmy and Shawn, my next door neighbors, and Clint, the kid across the street, could all stay outside and play, but my mom was a meanie and made me go inside. I’d hear them screaming and laughing in the street while I had to get ready for a bath and bed. Ugh!
So, in protest one night, I got out my Big Chief Tablet and a crayon and wrote a letter to my mom saying I was going to run away. I didn’t get to play like my friends could, so I was going to run away, and I’d be able to stay outside and play all night long if I wanted. I decided I’d run away during the night so she wouldn’t know. Unfortunately, I couldn’t make up my mind to take either Julie, my stuffed dog, or Rosie, my baby doll, and since I didn’t have enough room for both of them in my satchel, I crawled in bed with both of them and went to sleep. Apparently, the thought of leaving one of my treasures behind caused me more torture than my mean mom’s rule of having to go inside at dark time.
Teresa of Avila, our saint for this day, also found herself caught between what she wanted to do and where she was placed. A young girl born into the turmoil of the church during the Reformation, her very devout and pious father placed the rebellious and boy-crazy Teresa in a convent. There she learned the methods of a life of prayer, yet it was years after her entrance into the convent and an illness so severe that she was left paralyzed for three years that she finally discovered what a penitent life meant and how prayer could truly change a person. Tormented throughout much of her life, she felt caught between a carefree, uncommitted life and that of a pious, devoted relationship with God the Father. Feeling the pull of humanity that could draw her away from her prayers and devotion, she believed she constantly walked the fine line between Christ’s grace and hell’s temptations.
It was clear that Teresa was given a unique gift: passion. enthusiasm to found new convents, desire to learn more of Christ, devotion to God’s mercy through the burning power of prayer. She believed that through prayer God was able to touch the human soul and potentially transform the spirit and body. Shunned by many of her peers as diabolical rather than divine, she often wandered the Spanish countryside establishing a church and then being forced to leave after only a short time. Her passion was so strong and consuming that she felt a physical change after each encounter with God. Fr. John-Julian says that it is only when one makes a relentless and unswervingly concrete commitment to prayer that it becomes possible for God even to begin to act significantly in that life.
Similar to Saint Teresa, we too can feel the pangs of the touch of God. Additionally, we can feel conflicted between the pull and temptations of this life and the intense peace and passion of God. For me and for us all, I hope that we desire such purity and union with our Creator that can only come from a life devoted to unceasing and transformative prayer.