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!

One Word, One Hundred Days

On January 1, I chose my One Word for 2012. I chose it in a moment, after stumbling upon the link a few minutes before. It was the first word that entered my mind: “pray.”

I try to pray everyday, but I don’t always succeed. On the days I’m successful, I manage a morning and evening office. Usually, I make myself myself pray as soon as I get up— before I get busy with other things. When I forget to pray, or just put it off, I’m less likely to get back to it later that morning.

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.

I’ve posted two progress reports so far: the first after one week and the second after one month. Today, I’ve reached another milestone: one hundred days. How have I done?

It’s still a struggle, but little by little I’m getting better. Over the course of two months—February and March—I haven’t missed a single day of Morning or Evening Prayer. That is a big step for me: one I’ve been trying to accomplish for years. I still forget to pray the Rosary somedays, as well as the noonday Angelus, but I’m remembering  more often than not.

And, as I’ve noted before, prayer makes a difference. Not that I don’t stumble, but I stumble less often than I used to and I get to my feet faster each time. When I feel anger surging up—usually over something insignificant—I take a deep breath, say a short prayer, and feel the “peace the passes all understanding” washing over me like “water flowing from the right side of the temple.”

Alleluia.

Prayer is transforming me into a better version of me, the version of me that God always intended me to be. I am more penitent when I sin, more willing to ask for help when I need it, and more grateful for all the blessings of my life.

I recognize my dependence on God for everything more often than I used to, and—despite my frequent use of the pronouns “I” and “me” in this post—I hope that I am a bit more humble as a result.

To paraphrase Isaiah: Your ways, O Lord, are greater than my ways, and your thoughts greater than my thoughts.

Amen.

It’s never too late to start. 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!

Dust and Ashes

Cross of Ashes

Photo: Jennifer Balaska

Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return. (Genesis 3:19)

I went to Mass today for Ash Wednesday, just like I’ve done for the last eleven years. As an Episcopalian, I came to associate that quote from Genesis—said as Adam and Eve are expelled from the garden—with the imposition of ashes. Each year, on this day, I would kneel at the rail, and the priest would trace a dark grey cross on my forehead while saying those words:

“Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.”

Since I became Catholic, I miss those words. It is one of the options for the priest to say when he imposes ashes, but in my short experience I’ve not heard it. Instead I have stood in line (I also miss the rail) and as the priest traced the cross on my forehead, he has said:

“Repent and believe the Gospel.” (Mark 1:15.) Continue reading

One Word: One Month Later

OK, the first week was easy. After that, as I expected, it got a lot harder. I did better on some parts of my new prayer schedule than others, so let’s take them one at a time:

Morning Prayer. My greatest success. Thirty-one days in and I haven’t missed a single morning. During the first two weeks in particular, I was very good about getting up and praying right away. After that, I got a bit lazy—slept in, went for the coffee first—but I made sure I got the prayer book out by mid-morning at the latest. In all the time I’ve been trying to maintain a daily prayer schedule, this is the first month I’ve prayed at least once each day without fail. A big step forward.

Evening Prayer. The trick here was to pray right after Anna went to sleep. If I put it off, I was more likely to get tired and be tempted to skip. I only gave into the temptation a few times, so my goal for February is to not miss any.

The Angelus. I managed two of these a day without fail. Sticking to Morning and Evening Prayer helped, and on the few days I skipped the Evening Office, I prayed an Evening Angelus and The Lord’s Prayer. Midday, however, was tricky. It’s so easy to forget to stop and pray in the middle of a busy schedule. I think I remembered about half of the time. Something to improve next month.

The Rosary. As a new discipline, I knew this would be the most difficult to keep up, and for the first month I’ve done fairly well. Again, like the midday Angelus, I remembered to pray the rosary about half the time—either during the day or after Evening Prayer. More room for improvement as Lent draws closer.

And the result in my day to day life? Again, it’s been hard work. I knew my success the first week would be short-lived and I would revert to old, bad habits. But the regular rhythm of prayer has helped me get back on track faster. To think before I speak, to control my tongue when I do speak, to try to be more patient, more considerate, and more compassionate.

It’s an old cliché that prayers changes us, not God, but like all clichés it’s true. Prayer is how God slowly transforms us into his image. It works, and I would recommend it to anyone who desires a closer walk with God with one caveat. It has taken me years to work up to the point where I can attempt the hour or so over the course of each day that the above commitment entails. Start small—five or ten minutes at the most with a few familiar prayers. Don’t take on to much at once. You’ll set yourself up for failure and discouragement.

It’s never too late to start. 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!

One Word: One Week Later

On January 1st, I chose my One Word for 2012: “Pray.” It’s one week later—how am I doing so far?

Better than I expected.

I have maintained my daily routine of morning and evening prayer without interruption. The key for me has been to pray as soon as I get up. I’ve set my alarm all week for 5:45 a.m. and upon rising I go straight to the bookcase at the end of the bed—which is also my prayer space—stand before my icons, take my prayer book in hand, and read the office. I rarely skip evenings if I don’t skip mornings, and so far I haven’t missed an evening office either.

I’ve also added the Rosary to my daily routine. I have tried several times since I joined the Catholic Church in April to take up this devotion, but I’ve never made it more than a few days before slacking off. Unlike the daily offices, which I’ve prayed on and off for eleven years, the Rosary is new to me. I didn’t grow up Catholic, so I never had the experience of learning it as a child. But I decided on January 1st (which happens to be the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God) to give it another try. Having taken on the word pray as my One Word, it seemed like an opportune time to start up a new prayer routine.

And I’ve done a better job remembering to say the Angelus three times a day. Due to my schedule, I don’t quite manage the traditional times of 6 a.m., Noon, and 6 p.m. but I have incorporated this prayer on the Incarnation in both Morning and Evening Prayer pretty consistently. The midday Angelus is the one I usually forget, but so far I’ve remembered it each day.

But all of this doesn’t mean much if my prayer isn’t making some difference in my life. It is. I found myself to be more patient this week, my temper has been more under my control, and I’ve managed for the most part to weigh my words more carefully before I speak. I noticed this last change in particular earlier this week, and posted about it on Twitter:

So after one week, I am already noticing a change in my actions thanks to my One Word. I know I’m likely to stumble at some point, but I hope that by establishing a set routine now I’ll be able to get right back up again when I do.

It’s never too late to start. 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!