Posts in contemplation
What Contributes to a Good Quiet Time?
Good quiet.png

You sit down to pray and your mind is racing a thousand miles a minute. A sound bothers you. Your stomach rumbles. What was going to be a nice time of prayer is quickly slipping away...

Can you relate?

We’ve talked a lot about the components of a morning quiet time. There are tried and true “parts” to this ancient practice.

What we might take for granted, especially when it comes to morning prayer, are the other factors that can impact a morning quiet time.

I think of the story from St. Therese of Lisieux. During prayers in the chapel, another sister would make a sort of clacking noise which Therese found quite distracting. While at first an annoyance, she found a way to turn the sister’s peculiarities into something pleasant. Over time, she would look forward to the other sister’s noise.

By the way, I had a college roommate who snored like you can’t imagine. A train (snoring) literally came through our room each night! Unlike Therese, I didn’t have the virtue to see his snoring as a gift.

Back to the topic at hand- which factors contribute to your morning quiet time?

Here are four that stand out for me:

1. Sound. What’s going on around you? Are you alone? Is anyone else nearby? How about environmental sounds like birds outside or a train passing by... take note of these things.

2. How you are feeling physically? Are you hungry or tired? Does anything pain you? How is your posture? Take note of these things.

3. Temperature. Are you cold? Hot? Do you need to take off your jacket? Is your belt too tight? Take note of these things.

4. Desire. As you enter into prayer, are you feeling as if you want to pray? Does it feel routine today? Are you happy about this experience? Take note of these things.

We could add probably a dozen other things that impact your daily quiet time. The key is to take note of things, both inside you and outside of you. Then, as with all things, offer the moment and your heart up to the Lord. He will take care of the rest.

Why We Still Need Books

There are lots of reasons to read things online.  It's a fast way to consume information.  With smartphones in almost everyone's hand, reading has never been easier.  We have:

  • Google Plus posts
  • Articles on news sites
  • Blog posts
  • Facebook posts

And so it goes.  Many people will also advocate for reading online since "online" is now increasingly mobile.  I can read the New York Times on my iPhone while on the train.   

  • And while I'm waiting in the line at the grocery store...
  • And in the five minutes before my next meeting starts... 
  • And while my kids are finishing up their volleyball practice... 

This is all good.  Or, is it?  Having long been a digital learner, I've advocated for as much reading as possible but recently I had an experience which caused me to shift slightly.  The fact is, if I'm honest, I really haven't been reading contemplatively at all.

Let me explain. 

Confession here: I hadn't read a full book in about six months.  Don't get me wrong- I've been reading like crazy since I'm a doctoral student.  Articles, snippets, textbooks, etc.  Lots of reading. Research.  Writing.  More research.  

But not full books and certainly not for pleasure. 

And then something changed.  Somehow I heard about Brad Lomenick's The Catalyst Leader.   The book is really good- down to earth advice from a man who is humbly leading an organization that impacts lives.  What was more surprising was that I really had to discipline myself to read each day.  

You may now be thinking- what's the big deal?  The guy read a book, ok... but be honest with yourself and look in the mirror.  How many full length books have you read in the past two months?  

Turns out, some 75% of Americans have read a book in the past twelve months.  That's good. I just wasn't one of them.  Here are some benefits of complimenting your online reading with full length book reading:

  1. Daily book reading slows you down.
  2. Book reading imprints a book's idea more firmly in your head than a blog post or tweet.
  3. Full length books make you more contemplative.

If you aren't yet a full length book reader, here are my suggestions:

  • Choose a reading time.  This is probably best done early in the morning or right before bed.
  • Go for a little each day.  Like a diet, some is better than none and it makes sense to chip away a little at a time.
  • Reflect on what you're reading.  This could be in a journal or via your blog.

We still need books.  They teach us amazing things, connect us to amazing authors and just might help us become amazing people.   

The Contemplative Work of Parenting

I fear that Penelope Trunk is missing out on something. In case you don’t know her she is the author of Brazen Careerist, a thoughtful blog that is all about work and life. She’s intense, smart and very much to-the-point. So much so that some people love her stuff and others…well, you get the point.

I don’t always agree with Penelope but she speaks from the heart and does offer some truly brilliant career advice. This post of hers bothers me though.

She talks about parenting as difficult, occasionally boring and often unsatisfying. She cites evidence of this that she says backs her up.

The Missing Link

What I think Penelope is missing is a sense of contemplation. Contemplation cannot be easily measured just as parenting cannot be summed up in a Harvard Business Review article. I know of no metric that calibrates one's contemplative(ness). Just as it is intuitive that a mom-dad family unit makes the most sense for kids, being a contemplative parent just seems right.  When you develop a pattern of screaming at your kids, you know deep down that there's something that's "off" about what's going on.

I’ve witnessed three child births and while I did not have the “religious experience” that I’ve heard others dads speak of (I was much too nervous for that!), it was nothing short of mind-blowing. To later hold your child and have him/her stare back at you, no blinking necessary, is nothing short of incredible.

Ordinary and Contemplative Moments

Most nights, I will just wash up and go to bed but occasionally, I’m reminded of the treasures that await as I walk upstairs to the children’s rooms. I watch them sleeping for just a few seconds and see the face of God.

As Mother Theresa described the poor as “God in his distressing disguise”, I wonder if parenting provides us with a string of contemplative moments. Moments that allow us to see the very presence of God in something as innocent as a child.

Contemplation is good. It’s been described as “the long, loving look at the real” and it can apply to nature, to one’s work or to the face of a child. It’s probably what each of us can use more of- more frequent loving looks at what really matters in life.  So, for Penelope and any other parent out there who feels stressed or out of place spending time with your kids, see it as a contemplative moment.

Sometimes contemplation is the most important "work" we can do.

*Photo by Carf