Slow prayer and #madwriting
Written by: Michelle Francl-Donnay
To use my friend Fran’s marvelously apt word, it’s been a crazymadbusy week here. It was a crazy busy week on the calendar in the first place, and when a last minute writing project dropped into the mix Tuesday evening, it got crazymadbusy in short order. It was the sort of week that you could name, like a winter storm, or hurricane.
Suddenly, I was trying to cram about twelve hours of serious high-stakes writing into a twenty-four hour period that didn’t have very many crevices in the first place. Something had to go. Sleep for one. I stayed up until three in the morning to get a solid first draft in, texting my college aged son, who was likewise suffering from a surfeit of writing.
I pushed off any task I could for later in the week, along with a few things that I probably shouldn’t have. And I wrote. And wrote.
Forty-eight hours later the piece was written, edited and published. I was triumphantly exhausted.
In the midst of this torrent, I am making a retreat in everyday life, wading into Lent by revisiting the Spiritual Exercises in an adapted form. As tempting as it was to skimp on prayer in the busyness, I took a friend’s email tag line, a quote from St. Frances de Sales: “Every one of us needs half an hour of prayer a day, except when we are busy — then we need an hour,” as a gentle nudge from the Holy Spirit. Don’t. Not now.
The materials for this week’s contemplations were about the Examen — a practice that Ignatius viewed as sacrosanct, no matter how busy his brother Jesuits found themselves. Each day this week focussed on one of the five steps: “Pray for God’s help. Give thanks for the gifts of this day. Pray over significant feelings. Rejoice and seek forgiveness. Look to tomorrow.” All week long I appreciated the opportunity to linger over just one step of my nightly exercise. This slowing down of my prayer was a balm in the midst of days that flowed past in torrents.
On Thursday, my #madwriting project at an end, I sank into my prayer space, grateful after a day of teaching just to be sitting down and silent. I pulled up the instructions, which took up Ignatius fifth step: “What do you need God’s help with? Be very practical and specific. If it’s helpful, look at your schedule for tomorrow. God wants to be there with you, in the most dramatic and mundane moments of your life. Ask God to give you the grace you need—for example, courage, confidence, wisdom, patience, determination, or peace.”
Just that one direct question, what do you need God’s help with, made me uncomfortably aware of how often I turn that last step of the Examen into a first draft of the next day’s to-do list, which I then ask God to sign off on. Instead, can I turn to God, recognize my poverty and say, I need your help, I need your grace? Not in the abstract, certain as I am that God’s grace will be enough, but to be as practical and as direct as Jesus in John’s gospel. “What are you looking for?”
Tomorrow? Help with a ninety minutes quantum mechanics lecture.