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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!
I noticed an ad for a conference. The theme: Where are the New Intellectuals? I mentioned it to my priest and he sent back an article from the 1950s asking the same question – bemoaning, in fact, the death of Catholic intellectuals. Not that I qualify as a New Intellectual, but, having, at least, an intellect, I thought I’d chew on this.
My response? Pish-tosh!
There certainly are Contemporary Intellectuals, and I think I know why you aren’t finding them. They are sitting around in Real Lives, not in universities that have the funds to send them to conferences like these. Lots of them are home educators – moms and dads who are discovering the holes in their educations and patching them up as fast as they can. Sometimes they’re just a few steps ahead of the Next Intellectuals they are raising.
Include, in the ranks of these auto-didacts, everyone who is actively reading and discussing books like G.K. Chesterton’s Orthodoxy, A.E. Sertillange’s The Intellectual Life (a blueprint for New Intellectuals, by the way), Fr. Schall’s The Unseriousness of Human Affairs, or Stratford Caldecott’s The Radiance of Beauty. Catholic magazines (and their readers) like First Things, St. Austin Review, Second Spring and Gilbert are full of NIs. In fact, if Joseph Pearce, Dale Ahlquist, Stratford Caldecott, Anthony Esolen, and Gregg Wolfe aren’t on your short list of NIs, you’re looking in the wrong place (still in academia, are we?).
No wonder you’re spending big bucks to investigate the crisis of the disappearing Catholic intellectual. I’d love to have been at this conference to hear the answers they came up with. I’m genuinely interested in learning what was said, who said it, and what they all thought we should do next. Meanwhile, here’s my advice to those who are searching for New Intellectuals:
- Look for people with a genuine interest in a wide variety of topics. The ability to be interested, to place myself into the essence of things, is root and fruit of an expanding intellect.
- Look for people who ask questions, especially questions that provoke you. The intellect must be able to focus on both ‘objects’ of study and on ‘positive absences’ (things noticeable for not being there).
- Look for people who enjoy and make time for conversation and who are capable of being influenced by those conversations. (Hint: a book can be read as a conversation with the author – notice whether you tend to ‘talk back’ as you read.)
- Look for people who respond to what they learn – write about it, talk about it, change behaviors, improve practices, dive in to learn more, create derivative works. The intellect must be a two-way street, or it’ll become a dead end.
I’m not exactly sure why you, or anyone, is hunting up NIs, but I hope these tips help you find a few. Meanwhile, if you’re wishing (for whatever reasons) there were more of ‘em, perhaps that’s your call to become one, or raise one, or both.
“The truth is that when people are…really wild with freedom and invention, they always must, and they always do, create institutions.” G. K. Chesterton
I love this quote, and include it in the first Manifest (news and literary journal of Epiphany…a liberative arts university), because the question came up at a faculty meeting.
“Epiphany had hardly existed an hour before new institutions were springing up on the campus: Epiphany Press, the Blessed Order of Elizabeths, Incipe – a foundation dedicated to the beginning of good works, Euphonium – Epiphany’s chorale, and Manifest – its news and literary journal.” For myself, this story had hardly existed a week before I created the Joy Foundation. What I saw through fiction helped me to understand why free men always create institutions. [Read more…]
I love this thought from a poem by G. K. Chesterton: Gloria in profundis. Glory to God in the depths, in the lowest things, at this time of year when we sing, “Glory to God in the highest”! Since most of life is spent doing the lowest things – diapers, scrubbing toilets, changing oil and brake pads, filling in new planning calendars… – what a great thing it is to learn to be amazed by them! [Read more…]
One of my all-time favorite G.K. Chesterton quotes, this has grown into an important part of my ‘philosophy of life.’
To take myself lightly is not to disrespect, or dismiss myself. I must take myself seriously enough that others may also respect and benefit from my existence. But if I hold self lightly, I’ll have the humility to let the bubble of illusion pop, or the balloon of reputation fly off, without whimpering.
Flying is about light. Not just being light enough to rise, but about seeing clearly – through the lens of truth, in a way that corresponds with reality and is unclouded by self-delusion, sin, or selfishness. Lightness is about detachment – from my comfort, from my demands being met, from the promise of outcomes or progress.
Flying like this requires real gravitas – real and deep connection to the ground of being, to place, history, virtue, reality. Angel flight is about high humor – the Divine sense of comedy in which we stumbling, fumbling heroes turn out all right and even save the day. Perhaps angels can fly, mostly, because they know that in the end (as St. Juliana of Norwich said) “All manner of things shall be well.”