So for Lent this year, I opted to pray the hours every day. If you’re not familiar with the practice, it was an attempt back in probably the 2nd century or so to find a way to put into practice Paul’s command to “Pray without ceasing.” (1 Thes. 5:17, NASB) One stops roughly every three hours (even in the night if you’re that determined) and take the time to turn your heart back to God. Most folks to engage in this have specific forms to follow (Phyllis Tickle’s books are quite popular for this). My choice was to follow the prayers for individual devotions in the American Episcopal Book of Common Prayer and to add an extra less formal prayer when necessary.
I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m really rather bad at this.
Most days I got two in. Some days I got three or four. I never got all five waking time-slots filled. As G. K. Chesterton said, however, “Anything worth doing is worth doing badly.” Better than not having done any at all.
It got me thinking a bit about why I had such a hard time, though. I think what it may boil down to is that I really hate interruptions. I think I just have a hard time switching gears. It takes me a while to readjust somehow, and it’s far more easier if I just don’t have to. If I can just keep going with what I’m doing, so much the better. Less fuss, less hassle, and so on.
Of course, this is not how life works. God did not say to Abraham, “Hey, when you have a moment, let me know. I’d like to talk to you about sacrificing your only son. So, you know, when you’re free…” He just broke into Abraham’s life. Jesus’ appearance to Paul on his way to Damascus was not things as usual. It was an interrupting of the highest order. And any kind of transformation isn’t a matter of continuing what you’re doing by its very definition. I guess interruptions are part of the way the spiritual life works.
I recall reading someplace many years ago, perhaps from Nouwen(?), that a professor was constantly irritated by people coming in to ask questions or give him other projects and so on. He couldn’t get his work done that way, and it bugged him to no end. Over time, however, he began to understand that the interruptions were his actual work. The interactions with people, the engagement, that was the important part of his day, not the assigned tasks. Perhaps this is a lesson I yet need to sink into my own heart.
I could argue, of course, that as a male, my corpus collosum, the tissue that connects the brain hemispheres, is less dense than in women, which makes it easy to get stuck in one side of the brain and difficult to move back and forth, and this contributes to the difficulty in switching gears. Of course, a big, scientific defensive excuse is still a defensive excuse. And why would I not want to use my whole brain anyway? If Jesus came to give me life to the full, then that should include my full brain. And interruptions are surely part of a full life because interruptions are where people show up, and people are integral to life. Particularly three people we often refer to as the Trinity.
So maybe I’m going to have to strip some gears now and then. It’s probably good for me, really. And who knows? Maybe I’ll build up a little more tissue in my corpus collosum, and maybe I’ll discover things I wouldn’t normally have seen in those breaks from whatever I’m focused on. Maybe I might even see God a little bit. Maybe those interruptions are more of a gift than the curse my gut tries to make them out to be.