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    Friday, May 24, 2024

    Psalm 16: 5-8

    5 O Lord, you are my portion and my cup; it is you who uphold my lot.
    6 My boundaries enclose a pleasant land; indeed, I have a goodly heritage.
    7 I will bless the Lord who gives me counsel; my heart teaches me, night after night.
    8 I have set the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand I shall not fall.

     

    For monks, it is important to pray in midnight darkness.

    At the Abbey of Gesthemane, in Kentucky, the choir gathers at 3 a.m. daily, arriving in a line in near silence, the only sound the whisper of their feet as they settle themselves in the sanctuary to sing the psalms. The sanctuary is quite simple, brick walls and bare floors, large enough to allow the echoes of the ancient prayers to reverberate off the walls and ceiling lost in the darkness above.

    Then they retreat to their cells to pray alone.

    It is not so for all monks. Carretto spoke of rising at 3 a.m. and walking alone to a place on the dunes outside his desert hermitage, there to sit in wilderness silence beneath the starlit cosmos. The important thing, he said, was to feel little. To leave behind the noise of his own psyche. To retreat from the regular complaints of his body.

    Silence and darkness. Singularity or community. In both, souls bared before God.

    Why do this?

    A disciple must prepare. This is the entire purpose of discipleship. So too, praying. Why pray? Simply for this: To prepare, to learn, and to be changed.

    Were one to turn to the massive human library of volumes written concerning prayer, one would find countless suggestions on how to prepare to pray. Find a place. Select an hour. Settle the body. Quiet the mind. We can do this by watching a bird or lighting a candle or contemplating a cross. Some spend moments observing their own breathing. Others meditate on some small (and giant!) fragment of Scripture. Still others find smallness in the sound of a hymn or the repetitive sound of a bell. Some traditions use the aroma of incense.

    The monks prepare in darkness and silence.

    This is not a natural process. Our minds and bodies demand attention. They command us to pay attention to ourselves. Worry about this. Act upon that. They focus on chaos and disharmony, on the incessant demands of life. One cannot settle alone before God without first preparing to do so.

     One cannot learn to pray by reading a book or hearing a lecture. Such things might help. But they are not prayer. The only way to learn to pray is to do it. And before we can do it, we must prepare.

    If one fights himself or herself through all the chaotic realities of mortality, one will eventually settle, small and silent, before God. No words are necessary. What can I speak that God does not already know? The important thing is to be silent so God may speak. God will speak the right word. A word of comfort. A word of consolation. A word of instruction. A command.

    We will cast ourselves onto God, and God will cast us back onto the world, changed.

    This is our heritage. This is our pleasant boundary. God is our portion and our cup.

     

    Hymn of the day: Sweet Hour of Prayer. Online at Rossford UMC - Media

     

    Rev. Lawrence Keeler