As I write these words early in the day on Aug. 23, I do so to the sound of the heavy equipment that is preparing the parking space and green areas on the grounds of our renewed cathedral. It is a loud, rough sound, but its purpose makes it music to my ears. I enjoy the opportunity to close my eyes and imagine what the grounds will look like when the work is finished, what it will be like to enjoy the areas of devotion that will be part of the green space.
This moment of peace in the midst of the noise makes me the more mindful that I’ll be beginning my annual retreat tomorrow evening at the Jesuit-run Eastern Point Retreat Center in Gloucester, Mass. The program, eight days in length, calls retreatants to a time of silence and prayer. The 40-plus participants in the experience will be there for 40 different reasons. But we’ll likely hold in common the hope that the retreat will help us to be more mindful of God’s presence in the motion and sound of everyday living.
I know that intention will be very much a part of my prayer. The older I get the more deeply convinced I become of the importance of prayer in our lives. I know that when I am less faithful to prayer than I want to be, the more likely I am to lose focus, become discouraged and self-centered. Good rhythms of prayer, on the contrary, bring with them a clearer sense of reality, better perspective and deeper peace. I suppose that is because prayer reminds us of the fidelity and compassion of our loving God. More importantly, it calls us to attentiveness, to a careful listening to the Word of God.
That is not always an easy task. We are so busy, so harried in our daily living that it is hard to stop. There is always something to be done. And we’re the ones to do it. The problem is not in hard work; work is good for us in a host of ways. The difficulty comes when we forget the purpose of our activity, when we lose a sense of relationship with God and neighbor, when we end up grouchy, spent and exhausted, when there is no delight in what we have accomplished.
Getting off the treadmill of activity is not the only challenge. Another is to come to silence, to a disposition of attentiveness that allows us to hear the quiet voice of God calling us to deeper life. Just think of how advances in technology, good as they may be, can contribute to a lack of quiet in our lives. We are wired. We are ear-phoned. We are hooked up. Who wants silence? Who needs it? I do not at all argue that this technology is not good. My concern is that, if we are always so wired, we’ll lose the treasures available to us in attentiveness and quiet of the heart.
If you’ve come this far in reading this, you have probably reflected a little on your own life, and whether its pace and quality allow you time just to be, just to listen. If you are of a mind to shift in that direction, I most certainly encourage you to do so. Every one of our lives is different, so there is no one way to do it.
However, since many of us find “for instances” helpful, let me make three suggestions you may find practical and helpful:
1) Before you start your day or at the end of the day, prayerfully read a favorite passage of Scripture and let it speak to you for five to 15 minutes.
2) When you are alone in the car, drive in silence — no radio, no CD, no tape. Listen to what is going on deep inside.
3) Between appointments, errands or chores, spend the interval — however short it may be — in a spirit of prayer. It could be a prayer of offering, a prayer for guidance or one of thanksgiving. But let it be a moment that connects the present moment to life’s deeper purposes and the values that are close to your heart.
I conclude by noting that the exercise of writing this made me totally unaware of the construction noise outside.
Peace to all.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Due to Bishop Clark’s retreat, there will be no Along the Way column in the Sept. 11/12 Courier weekly editions.