Stripping Gears

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.

spiritual formation, interruptions, G. K. Chesterton

Image Copyright Walt Stoneburner

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.


5 responses

  1. soulsimple

    I actually laughed out loud at this “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…”

    And since I have always been enamored with praying the hours, I am absolutely convinced now that I can never do it. That’s right, I said never. For me it is not a matter of switching gears, since I am both female, a mother of four, and prone to fits of absolute attention abundance disorder (I pay attention to EVERYTHING.) For me it is a matter of slowing down the gears and claiming that time as my own. Distract me all you will, but will I commit to actually being quiet that many times per day?

    A question I have is this. What were your expectations at the regularly scheduled intervals? Was it to pray for a length of time? I wonder if altering our expectations of what the prayer time would look like and simply pause even for a moment to say a simple Jesus Prayer once would look like.

    So intrigued and hopeful about this spiritual discipline…

    April 3, 2012 at 6:07 pm

    • Always glad I can amuse.

      My expectation was more or less to get through the Book of Common Prayer’s daily devotion ( for the given time (or close to it) in a relatively meditative fashion – perhaps 3-5 minutes worth. While I think a quick Jesus Prayer is certainly better than nothing, part of the purpose for me was to make sure that I did stop for a few moments, to pull myself out of whatever I was doing and focus on God. I was really looking for something more than a passing-by-in-the-hallway-and-saying-hello kind of moment. It’s just hard for me to get myself to stop what I’m doing to do that.

      April 4, 2012 at 9:57 am

  2. soulsimple

    I need to repent today of my thinking about the spiritual disciplines. It seems I have lost my first love of them (as indicated by my desire to make them more convenient) As I was reading (over at, I found myself being invited in to the deep friendship that Jesus offers through becoming regularly and purposefully mindful of His presence. It is part of my personal pursuit to keep life at its simplest, and sometimes that simplicity lends itself to a cavalier attitude. Ouch.

    Perhaps it is time for me to return to the practice in earnest…

    April 4, 2012 at 11:39 am

    • Perhaps God is calling you to something deeper and more relational.

      There’s something in me that wants to cushion a bit what I’m hearing from you. I can’t tell if it’s my own psychological junk inserting itself or if it’s from the Spirit. But I offer it trusting that you can discern with God if it’s appropriate for you.

      As much as it is problematic for our relationship with Jesus to become hallway-ish, there are times for that as well, I think. It is His work in us that brings about transformation, and even the quickest invitation is still an invitation. There are times when focused intention is a good thing, and there’s also times when it’s quite good to just acknowledge that He’s in the car while you’re trying to navigate traffic to pick up your kid from band practice. I think both are part of the way relationships work.

      Perhaps it feels to me a bit like you’re chastising yourself for doing relationship wrong when in reality you’re not doing badly; there’s just room for something fuller? I could be wrong. You’re free to accept or reject my thoughts.

      April 4, 2012 at 4:49 pm

      • soulsimple

        As one who is always hoping for new ways to connect with God and Jesus through the Holy Spirit, I have been considering and toying with the ways I can focus my intention. I live an incarnational faith and my intention is pure and lovely because it is what God has awakened in me. My focus factor is another story. Jesus Prayer. So simple and helpful. Praying the examen. Somewhat simple, but time consuming and needs quiet. Praying the hours. Ahhhhh. It just invites me over and over again. Almost to tears. Because I desire it so much.

        … the amount of time that I think with God and converse with God in my daily habits of children-raising and writing and housework shenanigans… it’s astounding. But to pause from those things and seek the Kingdom first, that is what I am after. Not as a way to say I have been doing “it” wrong, but as a way to say I want to be with Him so much more in such a personal and sacred way within the context of carpools and casseroles.

        Still trying to figure out how to be monastic and mother four children. Not working so far.

        April 5, 2012 at 8:03 pm

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