En­ter­ing the new year with a prayerful mind­set

Lexington Herald-Leader (Sunday) - - Living - BY PAUL PRATHER

My goal for 2019 is to be­come ever more con­tem­pla­tive.

This year I’ve found my­self turn­ing in­ward rather than out­ward. I want to be­come con­tin­u­ally, pro­gres­sively con­verted. I want my heart changed.

I’ve re­al­ized that, as the old spir­i­tual has it, “It’s me, it’s me, it’s me, O Lord, stand­ing in the need of prayer.”

I’m drawn, then, to­ward the prac­tice of Chris­tian con­tem­pla­tion.

The con­tem­pla­tive life­style harkens back to the faith’s ear­li­est cen­turies. Tra­di­tion­ally, it in­volved en­ter­ing a clois­ter and de­vot­ing one­self en­tirely to prayer and seclu­sion from the out­side world — as well as to mor­ti­fi­ca­tion of the flesh, hard work, vir­gin­ity, poverty and obe­di­ence to a higher re­li­gious au­thor­ity.

I’m not suited for a con­tem­pla­tion that for­mal­ized or se­vere. I’m not in­ten­tion­ally try­ing to abase my­self; I doubt I’d be any good at that. I’m too old for hard work. It’s too late for vir­gin­ity. I tried poverty and didn’t like it. I don’t take or­ders well from other preach­ers.

My con­tem­pla­tive pur­suits are less de­mand­ing.

They do in­volve forms of seclu­sion and prayer, at least.

For in­stance, just due to my cir­cum­stances, I al­ready spent big chunks of time alone. My wife works in Lex­ing­ton and is gone most days. My grand­kids now live an hour away. Most of my parish­ioners have day jobs or are

oth­er­wise oc­cu­pied.

So I have an aw­ful lot of time to my­self, which is fine. I’ve rarely had a prob­lem with keep­ing my own com­pany. I like to read. I like to drive around coun­try roads and think. I like to watch old movies. I like to go tar­get shoot­ing. I like to play a game called Word Wipe on­line. Oc­ca­sion­ally I even do some­thing pro­duc­tive, such as study for a ser­mon or write a news­pa­per col­umn or visit the sick.

But in 2018 I’ve in­creas­ingly felt an urge to use that quiet time to de­velop spir­i­tu­ally.

I’m en­ter­ing the last phase of my life on earth. I want to know God bet­ter be­fore I leave here. I want to un­der­stand my­self bet­ter as well. I want to be­come a kinder, less ir­ri­tated and less ir­ri­tat­ing Chris­tian.

Among other things, I’ve been try­ing to learn to pray with­out ceas­ing, as St. Paul sug­gested. To that end, I’m turn­ing my thou­sand or­di­nary daily ac­tions into acts of prayer.

Of­ten I don’t suc­ceed. I’m maybe up to a 40-60 split of prayer vs. my ha­bit­ual cussing or obliv­i­ous­ness or bore­dom.

But to the ex­tent I do prac­tice a prayerful mind­set, ev­ery act I per­form be­comes trans­formed — which is to say I’m aware God is present with me in that act and in­ti­mately in­volved with it.

Daily chores — gassing up the car, de­posit­ing my pay­check at the bank, load­ing the dish­washer — be­come sup­pli­ca­tions.

I de­vote my­self, and thus those deeds, to God. I seek his quiet lead­er­ship. I re­main con­scious of the di­vine even in the mun­dane. I choose to be grate­ful.

I’m not ridicu­lous about it. You shouldn’t think I pray, “Dear Lord, Almighty God, should I empty this dish­washer or not empty it? Give me a vi­sion!”

I doubt God cares two snaps about the dish­washer. (My wife, though, cares a great deal.)

But as I’m putting away the dishes, I try to be, in that mo­ment, there with the Lord.

I re­mind my­self, “The Lord lives even in this sim­ple task. Maybe he’s help­ing me be­come a more thought­ful hus­band. Maybe he just likes clean dishes.”

When I man­age to hold onto this at­ti­tude, I find I no longer sep­a­rate the “godly” from the “fleshly.” They meld. They, and there­fore (I hope) I, be­come in­sep­a­ra­ble from the God who is present with me and with ev­ery­one, ev­ery­where.

In Je­sus’ phrase, I find I’m in him and he’s in me.

This idea some­times helps even when I’m not se­cluded, when I’m rub­bing shoul­ders with hoi pol­loi. It’s cre­at­ing in me a wel­come self-mor­ti­fi­ca­tion de­spite my­self. I’m not try­ing to flog my fallen na­ture into sub­mis­sion. But it’s slowly yield­ing any­way, a con­se­quence I didn’t fore­see.

If some­one speaks to me rudely, I’m less likely to take of­fense than I used to be.

When I’m aware of God in that mo­ment, God’s spirit seems to whis­per, “It’s not worth los­ing your peace over. That guy’s hav­ing a bad day. Smile and wish him my bless­ings and go mer­rily along your way.” And I do.

Or some­times I do.

As I said, if I were to put a num­ber on it, I’m prob­a­bly up to hav­ing this sub­lime aware­ness 40 per­cent of the time. Which is an im­prove­ment.

My hope for 2019 is that the Lord and I will in­crease that per­cent­age.

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