Jump to content

A Thirst For Deeper Prayer Versus A Vocation To Contemplative Life


Recommended Posts

I figure that I can't be the only person to have this problem, so I thought I'd make a thread about it here.

 

For the past couple of years I've been discerning with a secular institute. It's a slow process as there are no longer any members left in my home country, so I correspond with the formation team in France. (Soon I will be going to stay with the vocations co-ordinator in her home for a few days to meet people in person.) It would be slow anyway, as members of this institute don't make final promises until the age of thirty-five at the earliest, and I have eight years to go until that point. Right now everything else in my life is going terribly slowly too - my research feels stagnant, my language study seems to be going one step forward and two steps back, and I feel as though I'm treading water. Waiting for something else.

 

I am periodically assailed by a desire for very intense, deep prayer, and when this desire comes to me I end up browsing websites of monastic orders (instead of going to church, where I could actually pray). When this happens I wonder agitatedly, "What if?" and wonder if I shouldn't make an aspirancy just to see if I really am called to this life after all. I thought I wasn't. What if I am? Then I notice that this interest typically resurfaces whenever my life (including my prayer life) is heavy going and slow and stodgy, and I realise that it's probably just a desire for some novelty and variety - a break from a humdrum and often frustrating daily routine that is characterised mostly by uncertainty. (The uncertainty of research participants not replying, the lack of job security in academia, the list goes on!)

 

One thing I am sure of is that the urge to pray is real and solid, if nothing else. I need to find ways to help myself persevere and to respond whole-heartedly to this invitation to pray more whilst remaining anchored firmly in the present, rather than flitting from daydream to daydream about monastic life. I wanted to know if anybody else has had similar experiences with frustration and restlessness, and if so, what your thoughts and suggestions are.

Edited by beatitude
Link to post
Share on other sites

One thing I am sure of is that the urge to pray is real and solid, if nothing else. I need to find ways to help myself persevere and to respond whole-heartedly to this invitation to pray more whilst remaining anchored firmly in the present, rather than flitting from daydream to daydream about monastic life. I wanted to know if anybody else has had similar experiences with frustration and restlessness, and if so, what your thoughts and suggestions are.

 

First - I'm no expert. Second - if we were having a face-to-face conversation, I'd probably ask you a lot of questions. Third - given the fact that we're not face-to-face...

 

I've tried to develop prayer habits or routines. Sometimes they 'work' for a while, but then they turn rote, mechanical, meaningless (see a related idea by Morostheos is Transmundane). Some folks have told me, "Stick with the routine, persevere, work through it." But what I've actually done is drop the routine, or kept just parts of it. And then, when that "urge to pray" comes over me, I respond to it. At those times, I feel like God is calling me to "come away with me" (insert hyperlink to Norah Jones song).

 

How? We have a couple of perpetual adoration chapels available around here, so I'll go to one of them for an hour or two. Or pick up one of my previous prayer routines/combinations. Or pick up a Bible.

 

Sometimes, though, I think the problem is that I don't know how to pray better. If I had the time and could work it into my schedule, I'd like to be able to pick up a phone when the urge to pray comes over me and make arrangements to spend the weekend in the guest house at the local Benedictine monastery, maybe have a conference or two with a monk about ways to pray, pray the Liturgy of the Hours with the monks, that kind of thing. If you're in school, researching, yada yada yada, you probably don't have any more time than I do.

 

The other thing I do, because I'm a word nerd, is to re-invest meaning into the prayers I say by paraphrasing and elaborating them rather than reciting them word-for-word-as-composed-by-a-saint. I translate them into current English, remove the "O Lord!"s (I don't talk that way), substitute synonyms, break long sentences into shorter concepts, try different conjunctions which might reveal different connections between the concepts in the prayers.   

 

But most people aren't word nerds and find this approach infinitely unproductive.

Edited by Luigi
  • Like 1
Link to post
Share on other sites
Sr Mary Catharine OP

I, too, experience something similar and tried to chalk it up to dissatisfaction with my own life. Slowly I began to see that the desire for prayer was also alongside a desire to give everything to God, to make my life an act of praise and to intercede for the salvation of souls. THAT all pointed to a contemplative vocation...which initially I wasn't too happy about!

 

A desire for prayer itself may just be the response to grace to surrender more deeply to the Lord and for a more intimate union with him, not necessarily a vocation to monastic life. Talk it over with your spiritual director and don't be afraid to maybe give monastic life a closer look. Most likely a weekend at a monastery for the purpose of discerning that as your vocation will be a reality check....OR....it might just be something else! Just be open to whatever God wants of you! :saint2:

  • Like 5
Link to post
Share on other sites

I experience this too, but with the added complication of knowing that on occasion it is my nostalgic looking back at the contemplative life I once had.....

 

Like Luigi, at these times I try to schedule in a retreat, if not away from home then at home - like a staycation.

 

Re-schedule my day to rise earlier, pray the LOTH to an online accompaniment, drop whatever I can of my routine and try to respond as honestly ( given time etc constraints) to the real promptings of the Holy Spirit, find someone to pray with ,even if this is brief, on my mobile or in church or a park for the Rosary.

 

Read a text of scripture with more focus and attention, like lectio.

I often go back to a little book I have had for years called praying the psalms. It isnt by a Catholic author but I always find something fruitful in it to relate to the LOTH. Maybe there is a book like it you can borrow or purchase. The psalms are my lifeline.

 

I used to spend time stalking my fav nunny websites but realised that made me less focussed, less satisfied, lead nowhere and was self indulgent. Now if I find myself doing that I stop and try to do a home retreat instead.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Thank you for all the advice. It's really appreciated and there are so many good points to think about here.

 

I find it easiest to pray in the evening - Vespers, rosary, a Bible reading, intercession for people I've met that day, and some silent prayer. I was feeling that it wasn't right to cram most of my prayer into one part of the day and I ought to distribute it more equally, but if it works, it works. I will continue with this rather than trying to push myself into doing what I think I *ought* to do. A retreat would be nice and sometime in July I should be able to make a short one. There's a Carmelite retreat house not far from my parents, and they open it for quiet days even when there is no retreat timetabled.

 

I would probably get this exact same restlessness if I were in a monastery. It's a feature of my personality that I'm not very patient and that if things aren't going quite as I want them to I will grasp around to try and find something more fulfilling. I have to work hard to be patient and consistent in order to overcome this failing and to make the best of what God is giving me. Meeting a friend today who is coming close to his solemn profession as a Dominican friar has helped me to feel more settled. We didn't even talk about vocation, but just spending time with someone who is so completely and cheerfully rooted in the present moment is good for me.

 

Sister Mary Catharine, I think one day I will visit a contemplative monastery, just to be sure - I do have a particular monastery in mind through all of this and they aren't far from home either. I could easily spend a weekend there, if they'll let me. But I don't think now is the best time to go, because if I go when I'm already feeling restless then I will interpret any peace or comfort I receive from a prayerful weekend as proof positive that this is where I should be. ;) I will wait until I'm on a more even keel again.

  • Like 4
Link to post
Share on other sites

.........but what exactly IS contemplation (Fr Benedict Groeschel) and how on earth do I get there ........... https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oeMheOdUjd8

 

.......and if you listen to the end of the address above on contemplation there is a special message of great consolation especially for those who suffer some kind of mental disturbance or illness (and see http://www.guildbjlabre.org/History.html which Fr Benedict mentions at the end of address on contemplation. Also see http://en.gloria.tv/?mediafile=S01MaTxaG8HoHlzjoUFaW  - an interview re Fr Benedict's book: "Arise from Darkness", subtitled : "What To Do When Life Does Not Make Sense".)

  • Like 1
Link to post
Share on other sites
petitpèlerin

I've considered this question so much, in recent years and especially this past year, as I've basically discerned that I'm either called to be a sister in a contemplative community or else live a contemplative life as a lay person. (By that I mean that there seems to be this idea that lay people are all meant to be doers and joiners and active ministers and all that, and that just doesn't work for me, as good as I believe it is, so if I have a lay vocation then I believe I'm called to live it in a different way, a less busy and more hidden way.)

 

I've struggled and wrestled with this question, because I know that what I'm doing right now (where I'm living and the work I'm doing) is temporary and I want to know what direction to go in from here. I've been discerning by trying to live a prayerful life, be open to God, talk to other people - lay and religious - who live a deep contemplative dimension in their lives and try to glean insight from them, keep my spiritual director current with my situation and my discernment, and beg God for his guidance. (Those who ask do receive, we're promised that.) My big lesson this year is that vocation is not a head thing but a heart thing, and God doesn't speak to our heads but our hearts. It seems to me now that He's leading my heart in one direction, so I'm going to pursue it and see where it leads me. I think prayer and patience are key.

  • Like 3
Link to post
Share on other sites
Catherine Therese

... I know that what I'm doing right now (where I'm living and the work I'm doing) is temporary and I want to know what direction to go in from here. 

 

I've actually been starting to wonder of late whether this isn't true for all of us, all of the time. 

 

I've been struggling with an inability to find rock-solid ground again, and to feel as though I've "found my place" ever since returning home from the convent. 

 

Our Lord did say, however, that "foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests... but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest His head." Our peace and joy and happiness aren't to be found in stability and security any more than they are to be found in money, power, things, etc. I'm not really sure what this then looks like for the average lay person, though. I mean, each of us is called to contemplation in this life to some extent... thats part of what having a relationship with the Triune God who dwells in the hearts of the baptised is all about. St. John expresses it as "abiding"... even those who are more drawn towards an active life need somehow to cultivate a contemplative dimension if they are truly to grow closer to Him. 

 

So where does this leave us? 
I wish to heck I knew!!  :think:

 

I s'pose to me it sort of intellectually orients me toward the present moment (I say intellectually because my heart always skulks a safe distance behind my head, and I'm just not completely THERE yet) and learning to thank God for the circumstances of the now, to praise Him in the circumstances of the now, to love and serve Him in the circumstances of the now, and despite my own temporal existence as a composite physical/spiritual being in time, to abide in Him for whom time is well-and-truly transcended... 

 

I guess embracing the uncertainty and transitory nature of present circumstances and simply invite Him into that is a good start. I don't know what this says ultimately about the DIRECTION a vocation may or may not be heading toward, but maybe thats the point?

 

:crazy: this is doin' my head in. 

  • Like 2
Link to post
Share on other sites
I am periodically assailed by a desire for very intense, deep prayer,

 

Are you spending any time doing mental prayer at local chapels?  If you are discerning and you have desire for a deeper prayer life, then it would make sense to spend an hour in front of the blessed sacrament once a week or even once a day.  Bring your earplugs, the psalms, and leave everything else. 

Link to post
Share on other sites
  • 2 weeks later...

I LOVE the idea of at-home retreats! Why haven't I thought of that? So often I experience the same thing as Beatitude and don't do anything about it - time, money, the right circumstances... Living in London, the nearest Orthodox monastery is only 2 hours away, but unfortunately it's just prohibitively expensive to get there. But I do have the house to myself one day a week and am thinking I should plan to use it... :)

I've also been wondering if the internet is becoming a problem in my spiritual life. I'm in my twenties, so am possibly of the last generation to not have had internet at home for around half my childhood. I love what it can do (hello, how many of us would be becoming nuns if we didn't have this support and information?) but more and more it feels like a burden - and I don't know how to be less tied to it but still use it for what I need it for (especially for research, promotion and fundraising for the new monastery foundation). Thoughts?

  • Like 2
Link to post
Share on other sites
Catherine Therese

more and more it (the internet) feels like a burden - and I don't know how to be less tied to it but still use it for what I need it for (especially for research, promotion and fundraising for the new monastery foundation. Thoughts?

 

I think its super-insightful to see this in yourself and to look for ways of preventing it from getting out of hand. Way to grow in self-knowledge!

 

A suggestion: schedule it.

 

Since you're hanging out on VS, you may already have encountered the idea that one's activities in a convent or monastery will be governed by the Horarium of the order joined, which is essentially like a daily timetable that sets aside time for your prayer, work, recreation etc. in specific places during the day, which protects those activities and prevents one from running into another.  

 

Perhaps scheduling a generous (but definitely fixed) amount of time for using the internet for the activities you've mentioned, with a TINY little bit of time included in that 'window' for recreation/serendipitous browsing, might be helpful. And then unless there is a deadline attached to a particular task for which you need the internet, or some other genuinely pressing reason, you would choose not to exceed what you have allocated... but you would always feel free to spend LESS time on the internet if less time were needed, to make available for something more valuable should the need arise. 

 

Might take a little practice to work up to the discipline required to stick to it, and obviously in lay life its not going to be governed by obedience as it is in religious life, but it is worth the effort. Be flexible with yourself in your timetable adherence for other things, but be strict with yourself on the internet item specifically, since THIS is what you feel has become a burden (suggesting that perhaps in a small way you are becoming a slave to it?) 

Link to post
Share on other sites

I think its super-insightful to see this in yourself and to look for ways of preventing it from getting out of hand. Way to grow in self-knowledge!

 

A suggestion: schedule it.

 

Since you're hanging out on VS, you may already have encountered the idea that one's activities in a convent or monastery will be governed by the Horarium of the order joined, which is essentially like a daily timetable that sets aside time for your prayer, work, recreation etc. in specific places during the day, which protects those activities and prevents one from running into another.  

 

Perhaps scheduling a generous (but definitely fixed) amount of time for using the internet for the activities you've mentioned, with a TINY little bit of time included in that 'window' for recreation/serendipitous browsing, might be helpful. And then unless there is a deadline attached to a particular task for which you need the internet, or some other genuinely pressing reason, you would choose not to exceed what you have allocated... but you would always feel free to spend LESS time on the internet if less time were needed, to make available for something more valuable should the need arise. 

 

Might take a little practice to work up to the discipline required to stick to it, and obviously in lay life its not going to be governed by obedience as it is in religious life, but it is worth the effort. Be flexible with yourself in your timetable adherence for other things, but be strict with yourself on the internet item specifically, since THIS is what you feel has become a burden (suggesting that perhaps in a small way you are becoming a slave to it?) 

 

That is a really good idea. I'd thought of it briefly before, but dismissed it out of some vague, well-meaning desire not to create a 'pretending to be a nun' schedule for myself. A good reflex, maybe, but it's not really holding up as an excuse. I can't count the number of times I've finished what I thought I needed to do online, thinking, 'Ah, prayer time,' only to get a new important email, or remember an old one, and by the time I'm done I'm too exhausted to remember or care about prayer time. That is a problem that needs to be dealt with.

 

Do you think it should be one big chunk of time, e.g. 2 hours, done all in one go, or could it be broken into two 1-hour slots? Or is that cheating? Just thinking about those situations where people expect a response within a few hours...

 

I just realised my dad actually monitors himself too. He holds off going online for as long as possible into the afternoon - I've seen him do it. He'll do all the errands and chores in the morning, have lunch, hover around the computer thinking about what he needs to do, go and have a cup of tea, a cigarette, feed the cat... and then finally sit down and know exactly what he wants to get done. Haha!

 

Anyway thanks for the idea - I'm working on it :)

Link to post
Share on other sites

Having had similar questions to Marigold, I second Catherine Therese's suggestion. One of the things I've tried to do - albeit not always successfully - is to avoid going online at night. This is somehow reminiscent for me of seeing the night as being for silence (as in the great silence) and for prayer - and the internet (at least the interactive parts of it) as being about talking. I have to say that I've only had limited success in this, partly because, well, life intervenes - work that I have to get done and for which I need the internet. But I also find it tricky at times because there are things online (or on my computer) that are quite appropriate for prayerful reading and I'm not always able to print them out. But the lines get blurred very easily between that which is appropriate and that which, while not wrong, is nevertheless dissipating. 

Link to post
Share on other sites
Catherine Therese

Do you think it should be one big chunk of time, e.g. 2 hours, done all in one go, or could it be broken into two 1-hour slots? Or is that cheating? Just thinking about those situations where people expect a response within a few hours...

 

I just realised my dad actually monitors himself too. He holds off going online for as long as possible into the afternoon - I've seen him do it. He'll do all the errands and chores in the morning, have lunch, hover around the computer thinking about what he needs to do, go and have a cup of tea, a cigarette, feed the cat... and then finally sit down and know exactly what he wants to get done. Haha!

 

Anyway thanks for the idea - I'm working on it :)

 

I don't think it's "cheating" to split the chunk if this is what you schedule and this is what works best. The point is to make a plan, and stick to it, not allowing how you might feel in a given moment (that tug... that slavery...) to interfere with what you have prayed and discerned and finally planned was a good way to spend your time. 

 

Splitting up the time might actually be VERY helpful. If you spent a little in the early half of the day, and perhaps an hour just after dinner clean-up but before it gets too late, that might help, because if you've forgotten to address an email or something new comes up, then you know you've only got to wait a few hours before you can come back to it. Have a notepad by your computer and if something comes up at the END of an internet timeslot, note down what it is you want to get back to when you first log back on next time. Then you know you won't forget it, but don't have to have it in the back of your mind niggling all day. You're free to be in whatever the next present moment holds for you.  

 

And the other thing is this - I'm NOT proposing some legalistic rule that you beat yourself up if you break, or that forces you down a mental path towards perfectionism. That would be as harmful a slavery as your present slavery to internet time! 

 

The whole point of this is to be truly FREE - free to pursue time with God, time with neighbour, and other authentic goods. 

So if every now and then it doesn't work out, or maybe you weaken and give in? 
SOOOO NOT the end of the world.

 

But if you're weakening every day and there's always SOME excuse or another? Well, thats the other extreme, isn't it? 

 

When it comes down to it, ask yourself what you're really seeking, and who you're really seeking to please. 

 

I know that in my case, all too often I'm seeking simply to please myself. And when I veg out in front of The West Wing re-runs for hour after hour and then go to bed realising that I didn't make ANY time to sit and just be with the Lord that day? I know that not only have I selfishly tried to appease my feelings in the moment, and smothered my own love of God, but I haven't even pleased myself at the end of the day! Because my soul really IS longing for the Lord, more than watchman for daybreak. And so there on my bed at the end of the day, I cry out of the depths and seek His forgiveness, in the hope that I will respond to His grace better tomorrow. :)

 

I'm still working on it too, you see!

  • Like 2
Link to post
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Restore formatting

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.


It costs about $850 a year for Phatmass.com to survive–and we barely make it. If you’d like to help keep the Phorum alive, please consider a monthly gift.



×
×
  • Create New...