Normally around the first day of spring, we have a party. We hide eggs, have a bit of a treat, and enjoy being outside. It’s not always warm, but it’s usually fairly mild. However, when it’s 23 degrees and it looks like this outside, hunting eggs isn’t a top priority.
Besides, it’s the first week of Lent, and unnecessary celebrations just aren’t necessary. So, we’re saving our spring party for another day. Who has time for anything else in the schedule anyway? Church services every day this week. Adjusting to the new rhythm. There’s enough going on. Which is what I was thinking about as I walked in the snow.
Hilary had a homeschool class at one of our metroparks. I dropped her off at the nature center, piled on my layers, and like the good cardiac patient that I am…should be…pray I’ll be…headed off down the surrounding trails for a little exercise. This metropark has a decided focus on the “metro”. Surrounded by industry, the sounds of banging metal, buzzing high-voltage power lines, and rumbling trains filled the air. As I got further along, though, the sounds dropped away, and the soft, falling snow sang it’s own melody.
Adding all those extra Lenten services to the calendar can be daunting. So much time. I seem to always be on the quest to find just the right schedule to juggle all the different things that crowd to fill my day. The latest and greatest schedule usually looks just beautiful on paper. Neat little blocks of time building neat little days. And then life descends on the schedule, and the paper is soon crossed out and marked up and a big jumbled mess. There just never seems to be enough time for all that needs to be done.
The arrival of the Lenten rhythm is the perfect opportunity to reinforce my own rhythm. Because this myth that there’s not enough time, especially enough time to pray, is just that…a myth. Sure, there might not be time in a neat little box on my schedule with back to back to back activities and responsibilities, but isn’t that the problem? Not that there isn’t enough time, but that I think I have all these other responsibilities? Yes, I must work at worldly responsibilities if I want to live and care for those entrusted to me, but that isn’t the goal of my life. Look at my planner and schedule, and it sure seems like it is. Appointments and outings and classes and things, things, things, written all over the place with pen, pencil and crayon in hurried, desperate scribbles.
I never used to write down church services or my prayer rule times, because I told myself that there’s no need. It’s assumed and implied that those will get done. If prayer truly is such a pillar of my day that I don’t even feel the need to write down a reminder, then why does it always seem to be the first thing to get pushed back and crossed off? O my wretched soul, why do you continue to be so stubborn, so lazy, and so distant? You know what you need, but you just won’t be brave enough to go get it. Life is full of responsibilities, but my one true responsibility, my passion, my life’s work, my very breath, is communion with the living God. How dare I justify not seeking God by using the sorry excuse of time? God made time, why do I think my time is anything other than His?
The schedule I’m using now looks very different than the past. No clock times. No neat thirty minute increments. Just the rhythm and schedule that people far greater than me developed.
Each day gets a page. Each page is divided into blocks of time arranged around the praying of the Hours. Instead of looking at a list of clock times and trying to make sure my prayer times fit in, I now look at a day of prayer and add the rest of life to it. Same things get written down. Same errands and appointments and reminders, it’s just that they are not the markers and the pillars in my day. Prayer is.
In the space after Third Hour, it’s the time for schooling. I jot down a reminder to put dinner in the slow cooker and an appointment for an outside class. Probably need to fit phone calls and emails in. Not enough room before Sixth Hour? Well, those will just have to get moved to the next block. Three kids all need to be at three different places before Ninth Hour. Gotta make sure that laundry is done before Compline. The day stops being about the time and becomes about the prayer. The Hours are the moments of punctuation. The pause. The regrouping. The focus. Everything else is just the in between.
This week, Vespers time means Canon or Presanctified. I’m purposely not writing anything after that. And that’s how my days are scheduled…with purpose. Not to live and try to pray, but to live life as prayer. The blocks might get ridiculously full some days, but those are the times that it’s even more vital to stop and pray, not to pray less. Oh, I wish they were all peaceful moments at the icon corner with incense, but sometimes it’s clutching my prayer rope in the car or pretending to go to the bathroom for a few, stolen minutes. I can’t just blow past that stopping point, that pillar of prayer in my day. I can run and stretch and pull myself all over the schedule instead of praying, but what could possibly be worth doing without prayer?
As I walked back to the nature center to pick up Hilary, I came to a footbridge over the canal. I paused to snap some pictures of the retreating ice cover, and a bob and a flutter of a different shade of white caught my eye.
Four female deer stood to the side of the bridge, wanting to cross the path but wanting first and foremost to know my intentions. I instantly froze my movement and watched. Willing the wind to stop blowing my scent in their direction, I soon accepted that there was no fooling these young ladies. They knew I was there. They had places to go and things to do, but that didn’t matter at the moment. They had time to wait me out.
After awhile, I slowly crept across the bridge and moved to pass them on the trail. One doe was wary, yes, but not intimidated. We held eye contact for the longest time, me thanking her and God for her beauty, and she inching toward me as the others munched away at the brush.
Lent takes a lot of extra time. Extra services; extra efforts in cooking; extra prayer; extra activities. But if I go to every service and read every book and do everything just the right way…if it doesn’t change me…then I’m just wasting my time.
Time is a forward push, a marathon. It never stops, each day wasting away at a frantic pace. If I want to live a life of prayer, then I have to forget about time. There will never be enough time, but there doesn’t have to be. This moment. Right here. Washing the dishes at Vespers, wiping noses at Sixth Hour, or getting lost in the soft, brown pools of a deer’s eyes at Ninth Hour, this is what time is all about. The time to pray.