I just finished reading a book. After absorbing its final words, I closed the book and sat it down on a shelf. As I walked away, I wondered if I might have just stowed away a book I would come back to visit often. I also wondered if it was possible that the words, still fresh in my mind, might just live in my life forever, making the visits quite unnecessary.
The name of the book is Seven Sacred Pauses by Macrina Wiederkehr. It reflects on the monastic tradition (think monks and nuns) of honoring seven specific hours of each day with devotion and prayer. I confess, before reading this short book, I knew next to nothing about the monastic life. Although I'm certainly not an expert on that lifestyle now, I do feel more in touch with the hearts of the people who carry on this practice of honoring the hours. And this book left me with a longing to have a heart more like theirs.
I haven't always regarded this ritualistic approach to prayer as heartfelt. To me, answering the bell at predetermined hours of the day to pray has always seemed more like cows answering the farmer's call to come to the feed trough. It's a practice that seemed to me more tied to religious tradition than a love for the God these prayers were calling on. But reading Ms. Wiederkehr's book helped me understand just how little I understood about these traditions, and through them just how much love can be directed toward God.
The reality is all good relationships require intentional efforts to put aside the busyness in our lives to communicate with the ones we love. I know with my wife and kids, there are days I have to make myself ditch my work or play and show them love in ways they uniquely need to feel it. This goes against the idea that once love enters a relationship it magically weaves people together and they no longer have to work at their union. But anyone who's ever been in a loving relationship knows that idea is from Venus and a complete fantasy to those of us living on Mars.
Our relationship with God is no different. What Macrina Wiederkehr presents in Seven Sacred Pauses is the idea that if we will consistently force ourselves to stop and talk to God, he will unveil hidden beauty in our days we would have otherwise missed. In that beauty God reveals himself to us and draws us closer to him. Isn't that what prayer is? The fulfillment of our longing to feel closer to God. It's very much like the times I reluctantly drop what I'm doing to play ball with my boys. A couple of tosses into our time together I'm enjoying them so much that I wonder how I could have considered passing up the opportunity to experience it.
So I've come away from Seven Sacred Pauses committed to stopping myself more often each day to experience God. The book outlines specific times of the day to pause and provides themes to guide prayers appropriate for that particular hour of the day. Here is a basic summary of those themes:
The Night Watch - Midnight Until dawn
the night watch
"At these special times when I rise from my sleep for prayer, I keep vigil with Christ, who is always keeping vigil. I keep vigil with my heart's eternal questions and deep longings and with those places in my being where the light has grown dim. I keep vigil with those whose tired hearts have lost hope. The angel of night embraces my prayer and lights a candle in my soul. Keeping watch at my side, she listens to my dreams for the world and my prayers for all who suffer. In the middle of night I pray for those who sleep and those who cannot sleep. I pray for those with fearful hearts, for those whose courage is waning. I pray for those who have lost vision of what could be. When I rise in the middle of the night, my prayer is simply one of waiting in silence, waiting in darkness, listening with love." - Macrina Wiederkehr
the awakening hour
"Morning is a call to our own resurrection, and so we reflect on what needs to rise in us. On some days we may need to awaken to joy. Or perhaps we need to pray that a positive attitude for our work will be resurrected. Sometimes it is compassion for a particular coworker, an aging parent, an alienated spouse, a troubled teenager, or a colicky child that is needed. If you prayerfully look into your heart, you will probably know what kind of resurrection needs to take place to honor the Awakening Hour." - Macrina Wiederkehr
the blessing hour
"When I have the wisdom to step away from work momentarily, I am able to see it as a gift for the entire world. A short, refreshing pause can enhance my growing awareness that all work has the potential of becoming love made visible - a blessing. This is the Spirit's hour. I sense the overshadowing presence of all that is holy, and I remember that I am God's temple on earth, a channel for loving service. " - Macrina Wiederkehr
the hour of illumination
"I long for the Beatitudes of Jesus to become my rule of life. Just as Jesus embraced the cross at this hour, I recommit myself to give my life away. I want to follow the example of Jesus in servant leadership. If I am to be a prophet of peace in a violent world, then I must practice living with a nonviolent heart. I must become peace." -Macrina Wiederkehr
the wisdom hour
"Days end is symbolic of life's end. The gift of life on earth will not last forever. In the Rule of St. Benedict we are asked to keep death daily before our eyes. This is not intended in a dismal sense. It is a loving reminder of the beautiful fragility in the lives of human beings here on earth. An honest remembrance that all things are passing can help us grow in gratitude for all of creation and for the hours of the day. This awareness can enable us to live joyfully in the present moment. " - Macrina Wiederkehr
the twilight hour
Often at day's end the things that must yet be done form a circle around us and vie for our attention. We long for the rooms of our hearts to be at rest and find instead anxious, petulant hearts. We are, however, in charge of our attitudes. We have the power to transform fretful hearts into grateful hearts. Gratitude is one of the themes of the Vespers hour. If you search out reasons to be grateful, you may be amazed to discover that your gratitude room is overflowing." - Macrina Wiederkehr
the great silence
"As we fall into the deep, dark silence of the night, we invite God's protective angels to dwell in our houses and our hearts - all the angels: guardian angels, the great angels who are messengers of good news and healing and strength, the angel who wrestled through the night with Jacob and gave him a new name. Surround yourself with angels all through the night. Perhaps you, too, will awaken with a new name." - Macrina Wiederkehr