One Word, One Hundred and Eighty-Three Days

As of midnight this morning, we’re officially halfway through the year. One hundred and eighty-three days down and one hundred and eighty-three days to go. It was one hundred and eighty-three days ago—on January 1—that I chose my One Word for 2012: “Pray.”

Without prayer, I’m more likely to have a bad day. To get impatient, to lose my temper, and to be more disagreeable in general. I suffer, my family suffers, and my work suffers because of it. Prayer anchors me.

So I set out with the goal of praying everyday. After one week, I was doing great. After one month, I found myself struggling with it a bit. After one hundred days, I seemed to be in a rhythm. Lent certainly helped. Then came Easter and the inevitable post-Easter letdown.

The whole thing fell apart around the beginning of May.

But, as I told myself at the beginning of the year, I knew it would be a struggle at times: that I would find myself in the spiritual desert in which the very act of prayer would become too much. I would slip, falter, and fail.

And then I would get up and keep going.

Mt. Angel Abbey Church

Mt. Angel Abbey Church (Photo: Mt. Angel Abbey)

The monks of Mount Angel came to my rescue at Pentecost. I travelled to the Abbey for a weekend retreat; normally, the Retreat House would be closed over Memorial Day weekend, but the end of a seminar and a large family reunion kept the doors open and provided an opportunity for me to attend. A weekend in the rhythm of the Liturgy of the Hours brought me out of the desert and back to a spring of spiritual refreshment.

The last month I’ve gotten back on track again, not missing a single day of prayer. I know it won’t last—that I’ll stumble again at some point over the next 183 days—but I also know that when I stumble I’ll get back up again.

The one thing I won’t do is quit. And in not quitting, I will succeed.

It’s never too late to start (really, even with the year half over). If you want to try this out for yourself, go to One Word 365 and pick your own word for 2012. There’s over 500,000 to chose from!

Offline

Mt. Angel Abbey Church

Mt. Angel Abbey Church (Photo: Mt. Angel Abbey)

I returned to Mount Angel Abbey last weekend for my annual retreat. From Friday to Sunday afternoon, I was away from home, but more importantly I was away from the Internet. No email, no Facebook, no Twitter, and no blog. I brought my laptop to write on, and my cellphone to stay in touch, but without WiFi or data service I had no choice but to stay offline.

It was amazing how much work I got done without the constant distractions of the online world: 4,000 words in two days in between praying the offices with the monks, praying the rosary on my own, walking the Abbey grounds, reading, and meals. It was full schedule, but never rushed.

Then, a few days ago, an old friend of mine from my Music School days announced her temporary departure from Facebook. For one month, with the exception of email, she’s going off the Internet. Which got me thinking: I’m not in a position to go offline for a whole month—too much of my writing and almost all of my networking is based online—but I could take one day off a week. Shut off my WiFi, use the cellphone instead of the iPhone, and only use my laptop for writing.

I’m going to try it this weekend: at least 24 hours offline. I will log on tomorrow morning, but I will disconnect by lunchtime and not log back on until Sunday afternoon.

I’ll write a followup post Sunday evening reporting on how the experiment went.

Mostly Timeless

Mt. Angel Bell Tower

Photo: Mt. Angel Abbey

I’m back from my weekend retreat at Mount Angel Abbey. It was a wonderful, restful time for me. I prayed a lot and I got a lot of work done. Ora et labora (prayer and work): the Benedictine motto.

This was my fourth trip to the abbey, and for this visit I tried a little experiment: I dispensed with clocks. I left my phone in the room—I don’t wear a watch so my phone is my watch—I took the clock off the toolbar on my laptop, and I attempted to follow the rhythm of the monastery.

My one exception: I set the alarm clock so I would be up early enough to pray with the monks. But I hid the clock behind my computer and did my best to ignore it the rest of the day.

So how did I manage? Quite well. The bells told me when to go to the Abbey Church to pray, and meals were conveniently scheduled after Lauds, Noon Prayer, and Vespers. The rest of the time was my own—to write, to read, to browse the Abbey Bookstore, and to walk the Abbey grounds. And like any good Benedictine, I stopped whatever I was doing when the bells rang and hurried to the church for the next celebration of communal prayer.

I was amazed at how much my day opened up when not dictated by a clicking second hand (or a set of blazing red digits). I fell into a rhythm almost immediately and everything seemed perfectly balanced. I gained a new appreciation for the life of the monks. It felt more natural, more human, than the clock driven life I (and almost all of us) usually lead.

It made me wonder what we’ve lost in our submission to clicking hands and blinking lights, and if we might find a way to get some of it back.

I’m not sure of the answer, but I do know one thing. After I came home yesterday, I spent part of the afternoon playing with my daughter. And I didn’t look at the clock once.

Quiet

Mt. Angel Abbey Church

Mt. Angel Abbey Church (Photo: Mt. Angel Abbey)

Parents need a little quiet from time to time. For me, a browse through a bookstore will usually suffice, but every so often I need to get completely away.

That’s when I go up to the abbey.

This will be my fourth trip since 2007. I’ve tried to go up once a year, but our lives got so chaotic, what with moving and downsizing and career changes and more downsizing. Let’s just say the last two years were a mess. But today I get to go back and I’m really looking forward to it.

A whole weekend of quiet; just prayer and writing. No internet—not even an iPhone.

And by the time I drive back late Sunday morning, I’ll be rested, refreshed, and really missing Anna.

Missing her enough to give up on quiet for a while.