For me, late August means back to school and a more rigorous schedule than in the summer. While I work over the summer, late August means the resumption of classes, meetings with teachers and colleagues, and the rest of my family’s schedule also picking up the pace. I will be holding office hours with students and trying to fit in the gym.
All of these are important ways to find God. We are invited to be contemplatives in action, and I do find God in teaching, writing, and interactions with students, colleagues, family, and friends. If I pray the Examen daily—although in truth, I am not always as consistent as I ought to be—I will notice places that God’s presence breaks through into those everyday moments. Perhaps I am inspired by something new that an international student teaches me about a social-justice issue, from a different cultural perspective. I may feel that God is at work in that mutual learning. Or maybe it is a funny story that a colleague tells me in the hallway, and a sense of belonging to a community is a moment when I know God is there. I imagine that Jesus also loved to delight in the everydayness of being human.
Yet I also find that if I don’t have some time to be contemplative and center myself in less active ways, that my overall wellbeing suffers. After all, life also has its stresses: an unusual amount of grading on top of a busy daytime schedule or our family car developing mechanical problems for the umpteenth time. I need that solo time, just between God and me, no one else. Even Jesus went off to pray by himself. He did so, for example, both before and after the miracle of the loaves and fishes, when he fed 5,000 people (Mark 6:30–46). If Jesus needed a little time to pray and rest, then maybe so do I.
OK, not “maybe.” I need contemplative moments to feel whole and to know God in the way that I yearn to know God.
So, as I look at my fall schedule and set up meetings and office hours, I will also try to build in time for prayer and some slower, quieter moments of reflection. Here are some practices that any of us might choose from if we are looking to build in time to pray:
- Waking up a little earlier in order to pray. I like to sit either outdoors on my back porch or where I can see the outdoors.
- Listening to a song or hymn that draws me closer to God to kick off my day.
- Taking a walk at lunchtime one day, instead of heading to the gym, and looking for God in the natural world (birds, flowers, turtles sunning themselves at a pond).
- Stopping between work meetings, closing my eyes, and just breathing at my office desk for a few minutes. I might imagine breathing in God’s love and strength and breathing out all my stress. Or maybe I just breathe and find God in silence.
- Going to a weekday Mass.
- Offering gratitude to God for my day so far, right before I eat lunch.
- Putting away screens, such as my cell phone, a few minutes earlier in order to pray the Examen or Night Prayer from the Divine Office.
- Taking a half day or retreat once a month with no work or family plans except to be God-centered: walking, praying, or sitting with a cup of tea and resting in God’s presence. Sometimes God is in a good nap.
- Meeting with a group of friends once a month—perhaps over a glass of wine and some cheese and crackers—to share where God has been in our lives.
I don’t do all of these things, but I know that I will want to choose some of them as fall gets underway. Those little moments help me to be grounded and, I hope, to be more loving in my interactions in the social moments too.
How do you find ways to pray or center yourself in the midst of a busy schedule?