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Just as the mental cathedrals of medieval memory champions became ‘places’ that held specific material for easy retrieval, the regular old ‘furniture’ of our daily life and environment can become full of reminders to pray.
When I hear a siren, for example, it triggers my ‘prayer reflex’. Every prayer request email triggers an immediate Miraculous Medal prayer (Holy Mary, conceived without sin, pray for those who have recourse to thee.) Meal times trigger prayers of gratitude and blessing. Passing a Catholic church triggers a prayer of thanks to Christ for His unceasing presence. Infant wailing in a store triggers prayer that a tired mama will be able to stay patient and make it home for nap without regrets. Wailing on a plane triggers a prayer for baby’s ears….and mama’s equanimity.
It’s not that we should become automatons, but that we can learn what C.S. Lewis calls ‘stock responses’ and thus actually offer up prayer in a more-nearly unceasing way. Just as we learn to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you,’ we can learn to offer specific prayers when goosed by a trigger object, or event. We can choose to layer-in more prayer during the day by associating ‘real life’ with the call to prayer.
I like to pray the Rosary at the beginning of every long trip. Most often I forget to pray the prayer for drivers that should be triggered by the Sacred Heart Auto League clip on my visor. I’m not sure how to deal with the problem of becoming inured to a visual trigger – so used to seeing it that it disappears. For me, that’s a real weakness of visual reminders. There are too many icons, holy pictures, sacramental objects and other stuff in my visual field for anything to stand out as a reminder. Event triggers work better for me.
When I’m running behind schedule, I sing a little reminder I learned in my evangelical days: “The steps of the righteous are ordered by the Lord….” When I simply cannot (…type another word…listen to another dream story…bear the presence of that person…whatever), but must, I cling to the Scriptural promise that “I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me.” My own interior event, linked to words of life, triggers the utterance of those words as prayers.
Waking up is my trigger for Morning Prayer, from the Liturgy of the Hours. I am currently trying (not hard enough, apparently) to stop, per St. Ignatius of Loyola, 3 times a day (he said 5) for a review of the day-so-far and a brief examination of conscience. My favorite wake-up call is the middle of the night invitation to join in the Divine Mercy chaplet. Especially if I’ve waked at the Hour of Mercy (3-a.m.-ish), I feel very blessed to be participating in that movement over the whole world in prayer.
Thomas Howard, in Hallowed Be This House, recommended we take every trip to the bathroom as an opportunity to pray for cleansing and release of toxins. G.K. Chesterton suggested that St. Francis’ praise for water in the Canticle of Creation (Be praised for Sister Water: humble, helpful, precious, pure; she cleanses us…) be inscribed over sinks.
We can get creative with this! Doorbell rings: “Bless whoever this is, and our conversation.” Phone rings: “Holy Mary, help me to be truly present through this technology.” At a stoplight, “Jesus, help me to be still and wait on you.” In the checkout at the grocery store: “Praise God from Whom all blessings flow!” Washing windows: “Lord, help me to be translucent and radiate your light.”
If praying is something that we have to find big chunks of time for, we’re much less likely to do it. If it is as natural as breathing, seeing, noticing the world we’re in, responding to whatever reality we actually encounter, then the days can be suffused with prayer time.
There’s a link between praying continuously and seeing poetically. What is real becomes a window to what is even more real. It’s because Sabbath-keeping helps develop in us this ‘poetic’ seeing that I think it does permeate the rest of the week with a lightness of being that is delightful and surprising….so, as you know, I highly recommend it!