One of the first suggestions I offer when encouraging a person to make time for a prayer practice is to tie it to an existing habit.
Having spent many years in an Assemblies of God community where having a “daily quiet time” was one of the marks of discipleship, my lack of discipline in this area was painful. I had trouble with the “same time, everyday” expectation. During this season, I shared an apartment with a fellow sister in Christ who, without fail, met with the Lord every morning at 7am. My own attempts to follow a similar pattern would last a few weeks, and then fall by the wayside, replaced by a less consistent practice and even more guilt. The lack of follow-through could have been because an unhealthy competitiveness was sparked in me and I got up at 5am (not 7am), which simply was not sustainable in that season. It could have been that my motivation was more for show than for growth–to prove my worth as a disciple. It could have simply been because I didn’t value or even see the other practices in my life at the time, where God was meeting me already, or my own (mis)understanding of a “quiet” time and how it didn’t describe how God and I actually interacted.
A decade and lots of guilt later, I happened upon a book, Long Wandering Prayer, by David Hansen, who helped me redefine quiet time.
The body matters in prayer, as does the physical world around us. We know this yet many of us understand prayer as an exercise in which we should ideally subdue, quiet or otherwise discipline the body so that it remains dormant while we engage in the spiritual exercise of prayer. There is no question about the fact that prayer is a spiritual exercise. Prayer is in its very essence our soul in communion with the Spirit of God. The fallacy lies in the idea that the body must be subdued in order for the soul to commune with the Spirit of God. The very term quiet time (the fullest term being quiet time with God) implies this very thing–that we go to a quiet place and quiet the body so that we can be with God in quiet. Why can’t we call it noisy time? Why can’t we call in moving time? Why can’t we say, ‘I had a great noisy time with God this morning.’ I know of no biblical mandate for quiet time. For me, quiet time always turns into sleepy time. I think what we have be calling quiet time should really, be termed alone time.David Hansen, Long Wandering Prayer
Contemplative does not mean, necessarily, quiet, and once I let go of that expectation, I found that contexts for prayer expanded.
Along with this realization, the standard wisdom for getting into shape is to tie the new habit of exercise with an old, established habit. This offered me a new way to think about building a habit. Placing one’s running shoes by the bed night before; watching a weekly show while walking on a treadmill; walking to work, rather than driving; in each case, something already scheduled (getting up, watching a show, going to work) becomes paired with exercise. In the same way, a new habit of prayer can be cultivated. I found that tying my prayer time to tea, something I rarely go without, a great way to motivate prayer.
Sitting, sipping, and praying has kept me through many mornings, across many seasons, even stressful ones. But even this has become to feel too boundaried, and doesn’t allow for movement. I considered how I could embed prayer into daily domestic activities as I did them.
The Angelus (taken from the first word of the prayer in Latin) has traditionally been prayed at 6am, 12noon, and 6pm. In some strongly Roman Catholic communities, the Angelus bells still ring at those times, a series of 9 rings, in three groups of three, followed by pealing bells. The spacing of the bells mark the parts of the prayer.
V. The Angel of the Lord declared unto Mary.
R. And she conceived of the Holy Spirit.
Hail Mary, full of grace,
The Lord is with Thee;
Blessed art thou among women,
And blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God,
Pray for us sinners,
Now and at the hour of our death. Amen
V. Behold the handmaid of the Lord.
R. Be it done unto me according to thy word.
Hail Mary, etc.
V. And the Word was made Flesh.
R. And dwelt among us.
Hail Mary, etc.
V. Pray for us, O holy Mother of God.
R. That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.
LET US PRAY
Pour forth, we beseech Thee, O Lord, Thy grace into our hearts, that we to whom the Incarnation of Christ Thy Son was made known by the message of an angel, may by His Passion and Cross be brought to the glory of His Resurrection. Through the same Christ Our Lord. Amen.?
I spent Advent last year memorizing the prayer by posting it on my fridge and praying it aloud while making my tea. I make tea multiple times a day, so this embedded it throughout the day, and made my kitchen a place of prayer.
Once it was memorized, I began to add it to other activities in the kitchen. Cleaning the counters, preparing a meal, sweeping the floor, feeding Minerva, making bread. The daily domestic “chores” became infused with prayer, done within the homey remembrance of Jesus’ incarnation, announced to Mary as she (no doubt) went about her own daily household tasks.
As with any memorized prayer, the key is attentiveness and a willingness to listen after the prayer to how might the Holy Spirit be calling me to continue in petition and thanksgiving, for myself and for others, and for the life of the world. It is not something to just do and check off my list of tasks, but a doorway to walk through into encountering God in the most ordinary tasks of house-keeping.
Prayerfully saying the Angelus as I add the flour to the yeast is especially full of symbolism, leading me to remember the role of Christ as the Bread of Life, and my own life as broken bread; pray for those who will eat the bread and that it may bless them; ask that the yeast of prayer would expand into every corner of my life; and allow the sweet smell of Christ to permeate my life, making my home inviting to others physically and spiritually.
A year into the practice, it continues, part of the daily ritual: lighting a candle on the kitchen counter–it burns all day–and praying the Angelus as I boil tea water and feed Minerva. At times, certain words or phrases stay with me, echoing in the morning silence, and I pause at the enormity of God’s gift.
Immanuel, God with us.
Starting the day, each day with the reminder of the incarnation, and the gentleness with which God invites Mary to be Jesus’ mother centers my own desire to gently bring Jesus to the world, for love and life.
Depending on your own place in the Christian tradition, the Angelus is a simple prayer to memorize and use as inspiration for further prayer in the midst of domestic tasks. There are other lovely prayers or scriptures that can be memorized, such as the Lord’s Prayer, Collect for Purity, Psalm 23, Ephesians 3:14-21, Philippians 4: 8-9, Anima Christi (Soul of Christ), Suscipe, or the General Thanksgiving. I invite you to consider how to embed prayer into the daily ordinariness of keeping a home.
A word about prayers and Mary. I often ask my friends to pray for me, living disciples of Jesus. In my own life of discipleship, I was introduced to Jesus by Mary. In Germany, her beautiful and mothering images caught my attention as a young girl, and I was curious to get to know her Son, whom she always pointed to. While I do not believe it is necessary to ask for her prayers, I ask her to pray for me just as I would ask my own mom, friends, and church community. Mary is still a living disciple, now living eternally in God. I don’t worship my friends when I ask them to pray for me, the same is true for Mary (or any of the saints). Adoration is reserved for God, but respect (traditionally known as veneration) is allowed for those forebearers in the faith who, I believe, would encourage us in following Christ.