Post Author: April Berends
“Half an hour’s meditation each day is essential, except when you are busy. Then a full hour is needed.” -St. Francis de Sales
A friend and fellow young clergy woman posted this quote on her Facebook page recently. I read it with mixed emotions.
I took a walk today to clear my head. The long winter and cold spring have finally given way to a temperate summer. Things have been piling up lately, little things, big things, a number of parishioners struggling with various sorts of illnesses, a gap in our parish staff, a lot of little details that need to be addressed, friends who are carrying more than they are equipped to carry, daycare transitions, just a whole pile of stuff. I needed some air. I needed a reminder that summer comes eventually. I needed to stretch my legs and practice gratitude.
Spiritual practices that require a sustained amount of time on a day to day basis have been a challenge for me lately. One of my parishioners organized a group to read the Bible over the course of the year. As the leader of this congregation, I was automatically signed up for the daily reminder emails. I tried following them. I didn’t even last two weeks. I discovered that plowing through scripture from Genesis to Revelation was not the way that I wanted to encounter these sacred texts, at least not at this point in my life. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for biblical literacy. I’m glad that a number of my parishioners have committed themselves to this discipline.
As a lectionary preacher, I am given the gift of four scripture passages each week. My job in interpreting these texts is to read for depth and to draw connections. Often I find that probing those four texts in their narrative contexts, as well as the texts that I find cross-referenced in my reading and research, provides more than enough scripture on which to meditate. In my personal devotions, I almost always read toward Sundays.
I love meditating on scripture. I love that after 15 years of studying it as part of my vocation and 37 years of having it a part of my life nearly every day, I’m still learning new things about it.
I am a mom and a minister both, and I am still learning how to balance these roles while making sure that I seek the spiritual sustenance that I need in order to fulfill both of these roles well. I don’t, as many of my Episcopal colleagues do, pray the daily office each day in any organized sense. I pray while I’m driving to work, while I’m in the shower, while I’m drinking my coffee. I pray before I pick up the phone. I pray before I write. I pray before I preach. I pray before I walk into a hospital room, while I am in a hospital room, and when I’m leaving a hospital room. I pray when I tuck my kids in at night, and when I go to check on them before I go to bed. I don’t always use words. I pray when I stroke my baby’s head as he nuzzles close for his morning milk.
I wake up each morning to cries or squeals. I feed the baby. I help my spouse get our kids dressed and feed them breakfast. We do our best to get out the door in a timely manner.
Recently, I spoke with a doctor about the challenges of following a regular exercise regimen. He gave me this “helpful” advice. “When my kids were little, I would get up an hour before they did so that I could exercise.” Really? I asked him, “Were you the one feeding the baby when he woke up twice during the night?”
I feel this way about spiritual exercise, too. I’m all for it, it just find it hard to fit it all in. I used to make a near daily discipline of praying and ruminating on scripture while walking with my firstborn son. I’d walk for an hour or more each day. This year, though, winter stretched on for months and months. Ice and cold temperatures made it dangerous to go outside. Now that it’s finally warm enough and dry enough to be outside, my sweet, quiet boy talks nonstop. I now have a second sweet, cheerful boy who shares the double stroller and yells at the top of his lungs, an effort to carve out auditory space for himself amidst all the words pouring out of his brother.
Instead of setting aside hours for meditation and quiet, I am learning to soak up the grace in my time with a talkative toddler, the delight in explaining to him how insects drink from flowers, why that little vein on his chest looks blue under his skin. I marvel at the intricacies of creation when I attempt to answer the resulting question, “What is oxygen?” We talk about how tower cranes work, and why people who are blind need to hear “Walk sign is on” when they cross the street. I am learning to know God’s presence as I hold my baby close, when my heart fills with wonder at the things that he is learning, as I smell the skin behind his soft, perfect ears.
Meditation is a good thing. Taking time to pray, to worship and to reflect, these are all good things. But few of us, especially those of us who are parents, can give an hour at a stretch. Those of us who are moms in ministry know that hardly a waking hour goes by without someone needing something from us, and sometimes not a sleeping hour goes by either. We are not alone in this. A lot of our parishioners experience this too, in their families and in their vocations. Their attentions, like ours, are pulled in all sorts of directions.
Another friend responded to that quote from St. Francis de Sales about the necessity of meditation for an hour with this, “True, true… However I still have a hard time taking some of this advice from men who lived in a time period when they didn’t have to care for children.”
I loved her for saying that, because sometimes I really struggle to be spiritual.
I can’t set aside hours and hours of quiet time to pray and to read and to meditate each week. But I can do my best to look for God in all the things. I can help others look for God in all the things. A lot of days, this doesn’t seem enough, but am learning to come to terms with the fact that for this season, these are the gifts that I have to offer to my church, to myself, and to God.
Image by: Tomas Hellberg
Used with permission