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Filtering by Tag: Prayer

This Could be Why My Home is Currently Devoid of Any Pretty Extras from the Pottery Barn Catalog

alec vanderboom

A stunning sentence from my Carmel homework today,

"Prayer and comfortable living are incompatible."


A strong word choice from the Carmelite Constitution to highlight the necessity of penance in the average Catholic girl's life.

(And here I'd hoped to skate up to the glory of spiritual marriage based on the mere discomfort of five pregnancies alone!)

Prayer TIme: Giving God a Worthless Metal Band

alec vanderboom

It's a divine joke that God has called me to be a Carmelite.

I'm horrible at prayer.

I can't sit still. I fidget. I fret. I daydream. I think about stain removal strategies in my laundry. I hate doing the laundry, so that fact that I would rather clean clothes than sit completely still in one place cleansing my soul with the Creator of the Universe says something.

If I were handing out assignments for Miss Abigail, I would have given myself something epic and noble and flashy, such as feeding Haitian refugees, being a CCD teacher to non-native English speakers, or heck, even embroidering Alter cloths.

Instead, I got something else.

Something hidden. Something humble. Something hard.

My job is to go to Daily Mass when I can, pray the Divine Office, and then sit perfectly still for half and hour each day praying the "prayer of the quiet." Of course, my marriage and children come first. Yet the pattern for most days, as a Secular Carmelite, is to set apart a quiet time to recollect myself and get in touch with the Divine.

My husband has a quiet, introspective and calm temperament. Recollection of the faculties comes easily to him. (His first name matches the most contemplative Evangelist and the prayer giant, "St. John of the Cross" for a reason.)

Every night we pray side by side like two badly matched bookends.

My husband pulls down his Divine Office with joy. His feet are motionless. He calmly flips a practiced finger through the multiple pages of prayer. He looks likes someone made to pray each and every day.

I, meanwhile, become restless and agitated. My feet fall asleep and twitch. My knees hurt. I review a long "to do list." I imagine that I hear a sleeping baby calling "Mama!" During our time for prayer of the quiet, I frequently get up to check the kitchen timer "how much longer???"

Every day, it's still a hard battle to pray.

Thankfully, Saint Teresa of Avila, the founder of the Discalced Carmelite order, had a chatty, restless, sanguine personality like me. She left very explicit instructions on how to pray, precisely because she found it so difficult.

One of her metaphors has given me fortitude in my prayer life.

Saint Teresa writes think of God as a bridegroom who gives his bride many gifts. She has land and clothes and fancy bracelets on her wrists. And in return, the bride gives her groom a small metal band as a wedding ring. The gift isn't valuable in itself, and certainly a pales in comparison to the wealth of riches she's received as wedding gifts from her bridegroom. Yet a wedding ring is still treasured all the same, it serves as a symbol of the bride's faithfulness.

That image of a worthless metal band has helped me fortitude in my prayer life.

My thirty minutes of distracted, restless prayer time can certainly seem worthless from the outside. My prayers, however, are a sign of my faithfulness to God. Good or bad, rich or poor, my daily prayer time is more than a collection individual insights gained. My daily prayer time is an outward sign that I'm "God's girl for life."

It's a teeny, almost worthless act. Yet I know that my daily fight to pray is a gift that is received with great joy.

Praying Through the Human Condition

alec vanderboom

Welcome back!

Many exciting things have happened since my blog fast.

In November, my husband and I received our Brown Scapular. We are now official members of the Third Order Carmelites. I'll have to post a picture of the happy day, because it ranks right up there with marriage and child birth as a life changing event. One of my dear seminarian friends got to be there for my Profession Mass. He and I were jumping with joy during the Mass. The love between Carmelites and priests, even future priests, is so deep and so dear.

The priest who did our investitures was so sweet. He told me "don't give up praying now" as he put on my scapular. I held my toddler Mimi during my whole Profession, since she was not about sit quietly in the pew without Mom or Dad. Rather than being a distraction, her presence was a joy. Father joked "where's her scapular?" after he had invested both Jon and I. I had tears of happiness when we were announced as the "Catholic Church's newest people" of prayer after our final vows. I can't think of a more honorable way to serve this Church that I love so much.

We sailed through a smooth Advent. I got my prayers routine down pat. Didn't overspend on Christmas presents. Whipped up a seven course seafood dinner without notice when Christmas Eve handed my mother a family emergency.

I turned a happy 35 on December 31st.

On Mary's Day, January 1st, I found out that I'm pregnant. Our dearest prayer for two years has come true. I told my Carmel group that this was a Carmel baby. We'd had no luck conceiving for two years. Yet as soon as I got my Brown Scapular, everything came together again.

So pray for me and the newest Benjamin baby.

HA HA about my great prayer routine. Morning sickness has struck me hard over the last three weeks. Instead of deep mystical prayer experiences, I now spend my daily half and hour, moaning on my bed uniting myself with every time Jesus experienced the stomach flu during his 33 years on earth.

My prayer time is seriously pathetic. Sometimes I just sprawl out on the carpet in the morning and let Jon pray the beautiful words of Divine Office over me. We're one flesh so that still counts, right?

I asked advice from one of my Carmelite friends who is the mother of TEN. "How do you prayer with morning sickness?" She just laughed at me. "You just muddle through", Stephanie said sympathetically. "Jesus understands. It's part of praying through the human condition."

I wish all of you a happy time in our preparation before Lent. Keep praying through whatever is happening in your life. We weren't made to be angels. Our muddled and pathetic attempts at prayer are a part of our human condition.

Prayer 101

alec vanderboom

Okay, so nothing has intimidated me more than discovering that my primary job as a secular Carmelite is prayer. “Prayer for priests and prayer for sinners.” Just writing that line makes my heart light. It’s such a lovely, inviting task. Much like, “please invite your dearest friends to share coffee at the National Gallery cafe on your birthday and then visit your favorite artwork of your Blessed Mother together.”

‘Plan a birthday party tea at the National Gallery,” that’s the insight I received at Adoration recently. A happy enjoyable task, I couldn’t wait to do. That is for all of the ninety sections it took to open up an Evite folder.

Suddenly a birthday tea at the Smithsonian seemed intimidating. Who would I invite? Do my Protestant, non-Mary ‘worshiping” Mom & Sister get placed on the invite list? What about the logistics? What should I write about directions and parking situation? And most importantly, is everyone going to think that I’m crazy for wanting to stand around “lonely’ former alter paintings with my rosary?

(That “people will think I’m crazy” pride thing trips me up a lot).

That ability I have to take a perfect, easy, holy task and muck it up in my brain with endless anxious “am I doing this wrong?” questions also happens a lot.

I had a breakthrough on the prayer thing which I’m writing down so that I’ll remember the next time I start suffering from social anxiety with Jesus again.

A few weeks ago, I had a broken conversation with my sister. I had a long car ride home on the George Washington Parkway. I was all alone in the car (a great rarity in my current life). I needed to talk to someone. We don’t own a cell phone and for the thousand time I thought “this is one of those moments when it would be really nice to be able to call Jon.”

I couldn’t call my husband, but a little voice inside said “you can always call Jesus on the cell phone!”

I quickly bent my three fingers and place my pinky to my mouth and my thumb to my ear. (Making an inverted Hawaiian sign is how my 18 month old daughter & I pretend to talk on the phone in my house.) The motion was super quick. I think I even forgot make the sign of the cross.

With my pretend cell phone on my right ear, I started talking to Jesus. It was so easy. I could find the words to talk to him “on a cell phone”-- those easy, non scripted things on my heart—that had eluded me when I tried to pray “the right way” with my hands clasped and my head in serious prayer mode.

I told Jesus about the things in my heart. I told him about all the brokenness with my sister and my hurt that my Catholic faith seems to be the wedge that drives us further away from understanding each other. All these feelings which I thought were snarled in a endless knot came flowing all out in these relaxed, easy words.

I told my husband last night I started to imagine that my prayer to Jesus were a simple cell phone call. I showed him my silly hand motion that helps me to pray.

Jon got so excited about the metaphor. “You’ve got to collect yourself and dial the right number. That’s the recollecting your soul to God and making the sign of the cross” he said.

The he told me something really sweet. “You know that prayer of the quiet that you always struggle with?”

I nodded.

“That’s not anything grand or mysterious. That’s waiting on the cell phone connection until Jesus answers back.”

Remembering to pause in my stream of consciousness so that Jesus gets a chance to answer back?

Wow. A simple lack of social etiquette that I struggle with in real life.

I’m always excitedly talking OVER my friends’ words and missing half of their tender advice.

The prayer of the quiet is holding my tongue and letting Jesus have a turn to talk.

“I can work on prayer of the quiet!” I said. “That’s a skill that would be nice to have in my “real” life too.

Prayer 101. Simple. Easy. And endlessly useful.