I have no time to pray. I have two young children, a demanding academic schedule, a wife who has a full time job, an internship, friendships to maintain, dinner to cook, clothes to wash, groceries to get, choir practice, exercise…and today I have to take the car for an oil change. I can say the Lord’s Prayer real quick and I’m always at church Sunday morning, but I just don’t have time to really pray, read Scripture, or be silent in the presence of God.
I often imagine that if I was a monk, then I’d really have time to pray. I wouldn’t have kids running around needing their noses wiped while I’m trying to commune with the Creator of all. I could leave behind the cares of the world, and sit quietly enjoying the divine presence.
But now, in the midst of life, I just don’t have time to pray. Or do I?
On of the earliest experts on the spiritual life, John Cassian, wrote about the zealous monks in Egypt in a book called The Institutes. The life of these monks was one of extreme austerity. They fasted often and slept little. In the night, the monks would come together to pray Psalms and read Scripture. Then each would retire to his own cell to continue his own prayer.
Cassian makes it clear that the monk would work while he prayed. As the monk braided rope or wove baskets he kept his inner meditation. He tried to keep his mind attentive on the heart, rather than daydreaming, worrying, fantasizing, remembering, or giving in to various mental temptations. Continual labor was not a hindrance to “prayer time.” Rather toil was an “anchor” which kept the heart at peace.
This stillness of the heart is the freedom from sin that we all aim for. It is the first step in real communion with Jesus Christ. If Cassian is correct, it is within our reach.
It may be more difficult to maintain inner stillness with all worries of family life or career life. We may benefit from set-apart and scheduled time for prayer and meditation on Scripture. Yet, we may follow the example of the Egyptian monks and work towards inner stillness while we labor.
I do have enough time to pray.
The son of a Church of the Brethren pastor, Fr. David Chandler Poling (SVOTS ’12) grew up in rural Pennsylvania. He and his wife, Emilita, married in 2000, and moved to New York City in 2002. A few years later they joined the OCA at the Cathedral of the Holy Virgin Protection. They have three children: Elias, Mariam, and John. Fr. David is the acting rector of St. Innocent Mission in Oneonta, New York.